A pair of House lawmakers say they are fed up with the Navy's inability to advocate for itself and its priorities on Capitol Hill, even as concerns spike over China and the Pacific region.
Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., a former naval officer who sits on the House Armed Services Committee and its seapower panel, said "one of the most frustrating things that I see as a lawmaker" is the Navy not being able to clearly articulate what it needs.
Luria, speaking Wednesday at the annual Surface Navy Association's symposium in Alexandria, Virginia, said she has joked with the service's top uniformed official, Adm. Mike Gilday, in the halls of Congress, often asking him, "[Is] today the day you're going to come before Congress and actually tell us what we need and why?"
The congresswoman's Virginia district includes Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval base in the world. Still, "the Navy doesn't really come to us with a strategy," she said.
"What I mean by a strategy is: This is what we need to do, this is why, and this is the risk of not doing it," Luria said.
For the past couple of budget cycles, lawmakers have been frustrated with the Navy's shipbuilding requests and ended up adding ships beyond what the service has requested.
The Navy requested just one Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, or DDG, for fiscal 2022. The defense policy bill signed into law last month backs two destroyers, but lawmakers must still approve a separate spending bill to actually fund them.
The disagreement over destroyers came a year after lawmakers were dismayed that the Navy requested just one Virginia-class submarine. The Trump administration later amended its budget request to ask for two subs after outcry from lawmakers made clear they planned on funding two anyway.
"We all know in this room that the only ship that is built on time, on budget, on schedule right now are DDGs, so why would we only request to build one?" Luria asked the crowd of mostly current and retired naval officers.
According to Luria, the Navy is too eager to exchange maintaining older platforms like cruisers for newer but untested platforms like unmanned ships. "It's not very clear which direction the Navy wants to go, or what they want to either replace or augment with these vessels," she said.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who was part of the panel, said there are also questions over how much the drone ships and systems actually deter adversaries at sea.
But aside from doubts over the unmanned systems, the Navy has also suffered more "self-inflicted wounds," according to Gallagher. The branch has hit delays, cost overruns and issues in fielding the Littoral Combat Ships, Zumwalt-class destroyers, and Ford-class aircraft carriers.
The warning comes as the Navy, along with the entire military, is under even more pressure to deliver a clear message to lawmakers to avoid budget woes. Congress has yet to pass a regular appropriations bill for the Pentagon, or any other federal agency, and military leaders are worried 2022 could be the first time they have to contend with a full year of stopgap spending.
At the same time Luria and Gallagher were speaking, Gilday and the other service chiefs were testifying before a House panel about the effects of a yearlong continuing resolution, or CR, which freezes funding levels in place and creates a raft of spending problems for the military.
In addition to worries about how a full-year CR will affect troops, Gilday said shipbuilding plans could be disrupted by insufficient funding for the first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine and future subs. It could also delay and drive up costs for Ford-class aircraft carriers, aircraft carrier refueling overhauls, Constellation-class guided missile frigates, John Lewis-class T-AO fleet oilers, and used sealift auxiliary vessels, Gilday testified.
"We are now in a relentless race with peer competitors. Every day matters in this critical decade," he told the House Appropriations Committee. "In the face of a rising China, the Navy's topline -- in other words our buying power -- has been relatively flat for more than a decade. A yearlong CR will cost us time that can't be recovered."
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.