Mabus: Budget Deal Prevents Halt to Shipbuilding

The Navy Secretary explained what could have happened had Congress not passed a budget agreement.

Crystal City, Va. — Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the bipartisan Congressional budget deal could prevent the Navy from having to abruptly stop ongoing shipbuilding, maintenance and refueling work on aircraft carriers and other platforms.

“I have not seen a budget on time since I have been Secretary. I hope this agreement signals the start of more regular budget cycles,” Mabus told the audience.

Speaking to a large crowd of observers Jan. 14 at the Navy’s Surface Warfare Association Annual Symposium here, Mabus explained that if continuing resolutions, or CRs, were to continue further into the year, the Navy would have to stop work on several key ship building and maintenance projects.

Defense spending under sequestration was capped at $498 billion – and the new bipartisan top line deal now calls for roughly $520 billion in defense spending for fiscal year 2014.

However, in the absence of a formal budget, CRs cap spending at prior year levels, thus restricting the services ability to move funds where needed to continue vitally important acquisition and maintenance activities, Mabus explained.

“If they had not reached a budget agreement and were going forward with a continuing resolution all through this year, work on the next carrier would have stopped because we are going to spend more in 2014 than we did in 2013 on that carrier,” Mabus explained.  “The ability to use money for what you need, now, is essential managing.”

The “next-carrier” reference appears to have been a comment on the USS Kennedy, the second next-generation Ford-class carrier now under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Va. Initial pieces of the Kennedy are now being assembled in anticipation of a 2025 service entry date, Navy officials said.

Mabus also said continued CRs could also stop the ongoing Refueling Complex Overhaul, or RCOH, a mid-life maintenance and refueling initiative for the USS Lincoln now underway at Newport News Shipyard, Va.

CRs also prevent services, such as the Navy, from conducting what’s called new-start acquisition programs, thus impacting programs and restricting flexibility, Mabus explained.

The recently passed bipartisan budget deal adds roughly $22 billion back to the top line for defense spending above sequester levels for fiscal year 2014 and $9 billion back for fiscal year $2015, Pentagon officials said.

The automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, specify that roughly $492 billion will be cut from defense spending over a nine year period.

While the top line budget deal could reduce the sequestration cuts in 2014 and 2015, there are still budget questions about 2016 and beyond. In his remarks, Mabus acknowledged that there would need to be further budget resolution beyond 2015.

“The bipartisan budget agreement passed in Congress helps by giving us some predictability and allowing us to plan – but it is important to note that this only goes through next year,” he said.

Mabus also praised ongoing shipbuilding efforts, saying they are essential to the overall Navy goal of reaching a 300-ship fleet by the end of this decade. In particular, he praised ongoing work on the Joint High Speed Vessel and Mobile Landing Platforms.

On Jan. 11, the Navy christened its fourth Joint High Speed Vessel, the USNS Fall River.

Built by NASSCO, the Navy’s first Mobile Landing Platform recently completed contract trials and is slated for final delivery in March of this year. The MLP is a massive 80,000-ton, 785 foot-long commercial Alaska-class crude oil carrier configured to perform a range of military missions such as amphibious cargo on-load/off-load and logistics support.

The Navy plans four new sea-basing ships to include two Mobile Landing Platforms, or MLPs and two modified MLPs, configured into what the Navy calls Afloat Forward Staging Bases, or AFSBs.

“The number of ships and submarines is what provides that global presence America relies on.  On 9-11, 2001, the U.S. Navy had 316 ships. By 2008 we were down to 278 ships. In the four years before I became the Secretary, The Navy put 19 ships under contract. I’m proud to say that since I’ve been secretary, 60 ships have been put under contract,” Mabus said.