crusaded unsuccessfully last year
to boost the Navy’s buys of submarines to two a year beginning in
2009. The Navy currently does not
plan to increase sub production
rates from one annually until 2012.
On Feb. 7, Courtney made his
case before Defense Secretary
Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs
Chairman Peter Pace during the
House Armed Services Committee’s
first hearing on the budget request.
Courtney, who campaigned on
an antiwar platform, warned that
hefty bills for the Iraq war could
put modernization accounts at risk,
leaving the military poorly positioned for potential future conflicts.
The Chinese navy’s submarine
fleet, he said, is building two-and-a-half boats annually and could
soon surpass the U.S. underwater
force in terms of numbers of boats.
“It really is just a question of simple math to understand that the size
of our fleet is going to be smaller, significantly smaller, than the Chinese
navy,” Courtney said. “The fact that,
in the context of a budget this big,
we’re watching the decline of the size
of our Navy fleet to me is almost
emblematic about how this war is
not only affecting domestic priorities
but also eating into our seed corn.”
For its part, General Dynamics
is working to bring down the cost
of the Virginia class by several hundred million dollars to $2 billion a
copy, a company official said.
The fight for more ships will be
just one of many budget battles
lawmakers will launch this year in
the congressional defense committees and on the floor of the House
Lawmakers already are steamed
over the Pentagon’s attempts to
once again cancel the second
engine for the international Joint
Strike Fighter program. Last year,
defense officials recommended
cutting the second engine, developed by General Electric and the
U.K. firm Rolls Royce, to save $1.8
“Your budget proposal for shipbuilding is pathetic. You count
on seven vessels. I will combine that with the trend in the Navy
to retire ships at about 20 years. That means the legacy of the
Bush administration will be a 140-ship Navy. That’s crazy.”
U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss.
Addressing Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates during testimony before the House
Armed Services Committee on the fiscal 2008 national defense budget request
“In 2003, we destroyed anything that floated, so we’re trying,
literally, to bring the Iraqi navy back from the grave.”
Marine Maj. Gen. Carl Jensen
Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group Three
On efforts to help Iraq protect its own oil terminals
Los Angeles Times
billion over the next several years.
But lawmakers, after contentious hearings with high-profile
witnesses, last year added $340
million to Navy and Air Force
research and development accounts
to keep the alternate engine alive.
They concluded that a second engine would stimulate competition
and ultimately decrease costs on
the Joint Strike Fighter, a program
valued at $250 billion.
Senate Armed Services Chairman
Carl Levin, D-Mich., said during a
brief interview in early February
that the alternate engine issue continues to be a “subject of ongoing
interest” to his panel.
“It’ll come up, I assure you, maybe
in more than one hearing,” he said.
In addition, Levin already is
looking into the Pentagon’s plans
to permanently grow the Army and
Marine Corps by 92,000 troops
over the next five years.
The end-strength plans, unveiled by President Bush in January, were met with little immediate resistance on Capitol Hill,
where members of both sides of
the aisle had long been angling to
boost the size of the nation’s heavily deployed ground forces.
However, Levin is questioning
the size of the increase and has
aired concerns that it could either
eat into the military’s high-priced
weapons system accounts or further inflate the size of the defense
budget, which is now larger than at
the height of the Vietnam War.
Levin said he favored an
increase of some size, but pledged
to hold hearings and conduct
ongoing analyses on the matter.
Meanwhile, Pentagon leaders
could find themselves once again
embroiled in a war with lawmakers
over their proposal in the fiscal
2008 budget to raise TRICARE co-pays and other fees for military
retirees who participate in the
health care program.
Last year, Congress halted
TRICARE fee increases until December 2007. But the Pentagon factored $2.1 billion in savings due to
the cuts in its budget proposal — a
matter that has irked House Armed
Services Personnel Subcommittee
Chairman Vic Snyder, D-Ark., and
others in Congress.
Cutting military benefits during
wartime is essentially a political
poison pill, and Congress shows
no signs of backing down.