Washington, D.C.—At a Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, rejected proposed shipbuilding cuts in the Navy’s budget request and called on Navy leaders to support increases in shipbuilding to grow the fleet to 355 ships, a goal that was set by Congress, the President, and the Navy. She also raised the importance of continuing to invest in infrastructure upgrades at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and the other public shipyards.
The hearing was held to review the fiscal year 2021 funding request and budget justification for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Thomas Modley, Acting Secretary of the Navy, and Admiral Mike Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, were among those who testified.
“I was so surprised and alarmed when the budget came out and showed…deep reductions in the DDG-51 procurement in the future years defense program,” said Senator Collins. “It seems to me that these cuts are contrary to the testimony we’ve heard about the vital importance of these ships, that they undermine the President’s commitment to a 355 fleet Navy, and they also cause instability in the industrial base...”
In addition to highlighting the need to enhance our national security, Senator Collins emphasized that adding destroyers to the fleet would avoid “peaks and valleys in our industrial base that end up squandering the expertise and training of skilled workers at shipyards like Bath Iron Works.”
“Senator I agree with everything you said,” Acting Secretary Moldy responded.
Although Acting Secretary Moldy characterized the DDG-51 Flight III as “a critical part of our future force,” he acknowledged that the Navy had to make some “tough choices” in preparing the fiscal year 2021 budget. He attributed the proposed reduction in destroyers to the additional costs associated with increasing the number of sailors to prevent crews from being overworked.
“I think that it’s very evident where you look where our ships are deployed today that there’s stress on our sailors, there’s stress on our ships, and we need more of both,” Senator Collins replied.
Senator Collins, who has secured more than $320 million for military construction projects since 2012 at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, also expressed her appreciation for the Navy’s attention to the modernization needs of our shipyards. She asked Admiral Gilday to comment on why these investments are so important.
“It’s fair to say that the condition of the infrastructure across those four yards is poor, hence our investment of $20 billion for the integrated optimization plan,” Admiral Gilday answered.
Admiral Gilday explained that it is also a priority to optimize the functions of the shipyard and keep workers employed.
“[W]e can’t face a situation again where we actually reduce that workforce to our detriment down the line, because we cannot—it takes 40 years to get a master shipbuilder, to actually build one—over four decades. So were not going to hire someone off the street.”
The fiscal year 2021 budget request includes a $715 million authorization for the Multi-Mission Dry Dock #1 project, and the first batch of $160 million in funding to fund the project over three years. The project will provide additional dry dock capacity to perform depot-level maintenance on Virginia-class submarines at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.