Yesterday in Washington, D.C., leaders from the Senate, the military and business met to discuss strategies to increase FY 03 procurement funding by at least $2.9 billion to build more new navy ships
. Concerned that funding is inadequate to maintain the Federally mandated 300-ship navy as required by the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, leaders sought to bring publicity to their plight, magnifying the depth of their need while celebrating the success of the navy in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The current budget requests $6.1 billion for five new ships, a figure that is $5 billion below the previous administrations FY ‘01 shipbuilding procurement budget. The American Shipbuilding Association (ASA) is recommending an additional $2.9 billion increase in procurement dollars for FY ‘03. While estimates of a build rate vary by source - some circles maintain 10 news ships a year are needed while others cite 12 - the fact remains that current new construction levels are below need. “We need balance,” said Admiral Robert Natter, commander of the Atlantic Fleet. Whether its 10 ships or 12 ships, it doesn’t matter, “but no one can dispute the fact that we need to procure more ships.”
A 300-ship Navy requires an annual buy rate of 10 ships a year for 30 years. For the last decade, the Navy has procured six ships per year on average. Current estimates, given the current build and decommissioning rate, indicate the fleet dipping below the 300-ship level in 2003, and to 180 ships in 2024. “I cannot do my job with a 240-ship Navy,” said Natter. “I cannot do my job correctly even with a 300-ship navy.”
Senators Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Thad Cochran of Mississipi joined Natter, ASA and Philip Dur, President, Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, in laying claim for additional dollars. While the group collectively made strong case for additional funding, specifically noting the 50 ship effort that has allowed the U.S. to address the terrorist threat in Afghanistan without the luxury of land bases, each sounded unconvinced that additional funding could be had.