"Mr. Chairman, I join you in welcoming our witnesses today to discuss the President's budget request for fiscal year 2013 for the Department of the Navy. I am sure I speak for all Members of our Committee when I say that our thoughts and prayers are with all our deployed Sailors and Marines, particularly those who are engaged in combat operations. Their hard work and dedication reflects the very finest traditions of our Armed Forces. Their sacrifices are matched only by those of their families, who have supported these brave men and women in service of their country.
"While recruiting and retention in the Navy and Marine Corps remain strong, we must carefully consider plans for 15,100 fewer active and reserve Sailors, and 20,000 fewer Marines -- as the Department is currently proposing under its budget plan covering the next five years. Even with assurances that the Department is focused on providing the best transition possible for them, these are difficult times for anyone seeking a new profession. I expect that you will use the force-shaping authorities you have, which this Committee authorized last year, and avoid -- to the maximum extent possible -- involuntary separations. These Sailors and Marines served honorably, and we should do everything we can to ensure that we are not adding them to the rolls of the unemployed.
"The Administration is proposing a reduced defense budget at a time when the challenges to our security are arguably more daunting than at any time in recent memory. In particular, the Pacific Command area of responsibility is predominantly a maritime theater, and our presence and power projection will continue to depend on the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Yet, the Navy remains short of its goal of 313 ships. And, it proposes under its current budget request to retire seven Ticonderoga Aegis-class cruisers earlier than planned and to place into "reduced operating status' two amphibious lift ships needed by the Marine Corps. Cuts to our naval capabilities, without a plan to compensate for them, puts our goals in the Asia-Pacific region at greater risk.
"First, on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, about 50 percent of the work needed to build all 32 jets under the fourth lot of early production aircraft is completed. But, including the cost of design changes driven by discoveries late in development, the total cost to finish building Lot 4 jets is estimated at about $500 million over the target cost. The high likelihood that "concurrency' costs will continue to grow was one reason the Department decided to slow-down F-35 production, moving 179 aircraft beyond the current five-year spending plan. In my view, preventing further cost growth in the F-35 program is absolutely imperative. Because of delays in the F-35 program, the Navy has decided to buy more F/A-18 Super Hornets, the Marine Corps is buying ex-British AV-8 Harriers for spare parts, and the Air Force is investing in refurbished F-16s to fill the gap created by unfulfilled F-35 deliveries. I would like to hear from our witnesses how the F-35 program can be better managed to successfully complete remaining developmental testing and, thus, be available to the Navy and Marine Corps in a timely fashion to avoid a tactical fighter shortfall.
"The cost of acquisition of the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier has grown over the original estimate by over $1 billion -- bringing the total cost of the carrier to well over $12 billion and at least $500-600 million over the legislative cost cap. And, the likelihood of future growth in the cost to complete construction is high. I expect the Navy will soon ask for legislative relief from this cost cap. Before I can support such a request, I need to understand why the Navy has been unable to control costs on this program. I am also reluctant to support additional funding for the second carrier, CVN-79, until the Navy and shipbuilder get Ford-class carrier costs under control.
"I am happy to note that costs of building the Littoral Combat Ship seaframes of each of the follow-on ships currently under construction appears to be stabilizing, despite structural issues that had arisen in both the steel- and aluminum-hulled variants. This committee will be looking at both cost management and demonstrated combat capability of the integrated seaframes and mission modules under the dual-award block buy strategy. I am concerned that, by 2016, with nine Littoral Combat Ships planned to be in inventory, the Navy will not have a single fully capable mission module to deploy on these ships.
"Another area of the Navy budget that concerns me is the amount of funding needed for ship construction going forward -- annually that is about $13 billion. Ohio-class replacement submarines run about $6-7 billion each and Virginia class submarines cost about $2 billion each. We are getting to a point where more than half of the Navy's total shipbuilding budget will be required to build extraordinarily expensive nuclear submarines. I am worried that funding needed to modernize the surface fleet is being crowded out, and I ask that the witnesses comment on the impact of submarine construction costs on surface shipbuilding, and the potential impact to the shipbuilding industrial base.
"I would also like our witnesses to elaborate on the strategy for modernization of the Marine Corps' ground combat vehicle capabilities, including the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, and the Marine Personnel Carrier. How does the Marine Corps plan to accomplish all of this within current and projected budget constraints, and in a way that maintains operational capability and readiness?
"Secretary Mabus, I understand that your second highest priority is "treating energy as a strategic national security issue.' Even with the very real threat of sequestration and the dramatic cuts in endstrength and investment that would entail, the Navy has pledged $170 million as its share of a $510 million effort to create a commercially viable biofuel market. You have directed the Department to produce or consume one gigawatt of new, renewable energy by 2020 to power naval installations across the country. Using defense dollars to subsidize new energy technologies is not the Navy's responsibility. Nor is it sufficiently related to the Service's core mission to justify such expenditures. I hope you will address this issue in your comments.
"Finally, the Committee will carefully consider the three multi-year procurement proposals included with the budget submission. To be approved, the proposals must meet the criteria in law -- including the requirement for "substantive savings,' considered 10 percent, and stability in design.
"The Department of the Navy faces many difficult challenges. That said, the performance of our Sailors and Marines has never been so gratifying to watch. They make us proud every day. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses on these and other tough but important issues, which go squarely to how we arm and equip those men and women who serve their Nation so selflessly at home and abroad.
"I thank the witnesses."