HH: Joined by Congressman Rob Wittman. You can follow him on Twitter, @RobWittman. There are two T’s, M-A-N, Rob Wittman. He is from Virginia’s 1st Congressional District. He is also the chairman of the Sea Power and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee in the House. Congressman Wittman, Happy New Year, great to have you. I feel real good, I just sound pretty bad.
RW: Well, Hugh, it’s great to be with you, and I wish you all the best and hopefully getting your voice back to where it needs to be.
HH: Well, I’ll let you do the talk, because I wanted you on as the chairman of the Sea Power and Projection Forces Subcommittee. You know that the President-Elect promised a United States Navy of 350 ships. I’ve just finished a book, The Fourth Way, which has four different plans in there on how to get it. I got an email from inside the building yesterday. You’ll appreciate that since the election, the CNO has put together a 350 ship plan, a team to get it done, and they brought the shipbuilders in, because it’s pretty hard to get to 350. They’re working on it. How do you think we do it, Congressman?
RW: Well, I think it can be done, and the good thing is the vision from the administration of 350 ships, Hugh, and the most recent force structure assessment from the Navy that came out in December also projects about the same number, 355 ships. As you said, the key is how do we get there. I do think we can get there. At the minimum, Hugh, I think what we have to do is to be able to authorize and then fund at least $5 billion additional dollars each year in the shipbuilding budget. Now remember, one of the great thresholds we crossed last year to uncomplicate things was to find a mechanism to fund the new Ohio Class replacement class of submarines now called the Columbia Class. That is going to be about a $4.7 to 4.8 billion dollars per boat project to build those ballistic missile submarines, those large submarines. And the concern was, is at that cost per boat, putting that in the shipbuilding budget, would really keep us from building other classes of ships. So the pieces of this are starting to come together. We’ve got the mechanism separate from the shipbuilding budget to build those Ohio Class replacement submarines. Now, we’ve got to be able to get that $5 billion additional dollars, at least. What I believe we need to do, and what my subcommittee will be focused on, is asking the tough questions about how do we get there, and not just how do we get there, but what ships do we need within that 355 ship Navy to do the things we need to do? How many of those boats should be attack submarines? How many amphibious ships do we need? How many aircraft carriers do we need? I think we need to go from 11 to 12. I do believe we need additional attack submarines, additional amphibious lift. All those are things we’re going to ask. And then, Hugh, the most critical element is how quickly can we get there. I think the industrial base has the capacity to get there. The question is, is what resources can Congress devote to that to get us there? And do we do that over a 30 year period? Do we do it over 25 years? Do we do it over 20 years? And another important element of that is making sure we do everything we can to take care of and maintain the ships we have, because if we don’t, and we’ve seen this in the past, if those ships wear out more quickly than what they have been planned to serve the nation, then we don’t get to 355, because we’re retiring ships faster than we’re building them. So all the pieces of this puzzle have to come together. And it’s going to be our job on the Sea Power Subcommittee in the weeks to come is to ask these tough questions, to lay things out, to bring the Navy in, the Congressional Research Service, the industry in, look at how do we get there, and how do we make sure we put in place a realistic plan that puts in milestones, and that we can achieve to be able to make progress to get to 355. Continue Reading