July 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Is the Price Right for Navy's Sub Replacement Program?

Courtesy U.S. Navy
The Navy’s current Ohio-class subs, above, are set be replaced by new ballistic missile submarines. But the price tag for the new subs is so high — an estimated $5.4 billion per vessel — that building them could eat up funds for other ships.

The Navy is planning to build 12 ballistic missile submarines that are so pricey the service is facing a $60 billion shortfall between 2021 and 2035, yet many of the lawmakers overseeing the Navy appear to have no problem with that.

Despite congressionally mandated automatic cuts in fiscal 2013 that are squeezing operations and maintenance accounts and have prompted civilian furloughs — and facing the prospect of yet another sequester in fiscal 2014 — key oversight lawmakers simply say the extra money must be found.

“The issue is not whether we do the Ohio-class [submarine] replacement program,” said J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces. “The question is do we take it out of the hide of every other program [in the shipbuilding plan] or see it as a strategic asset and take it out of the Pentagon’s overall budget.”

Despite all the pressure to slash government spending across the board, the military services are continuing to put forward their wish lists, and defense-focused lawmakers say Congress needs to follow through.

“You have a Navy living in a parallel universe hoping declining budgets go away and you also have a Navy in a budgetary war ... between the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines for projected out-year resources,” said Gordon Adams, a defense budget expert at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. “And they are talking to people who don’t do budgets — because they are talking to the Armed Services Committee. They don’t do budgets, they are advocates for their part of the DOD universe.”

Like a game of musical chairs, one senior congressional aide said, the Navy is betting that when the music stops, it will have a chair and one of the other services won’t.

But the Defense Department’s overall funding picture remains uncertain on Capitol Hill. Facing the possibility of a continuing resolution at the start of fiscal 2014, which would lock in funding at the prior year’s levels, Navy planners would have to find additional funds from other research-and-development accounts to keep the Ohio-class replacement submarine program on track. The Navy had planned to about double its research-and-development funding for the program in fiscal 2014, military officials said.

Acute Funding Shortfall

The Navy’s funding shortfall — almost two-thirds of the entire acquisition cost of the submarine program — brings into stark contrast two of its core strategic goals: fielding a fleet of at least 306 warships and recapitalizing its nuclear deterrent fleet with the $93 billion Ohio-class replacement program.

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