Washington, D.C.—At an Appropriations Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Susan Collins raised concerns with the Biden administration’s lack of prioritization of national security in its Fiscal Year 2022 budget request. She also questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about the proposal to procure only one DDG-51 Flight III destroyer in the Department of Defense’s budget. At least two DDG-51s were previously projected under the current multiyear procurement contract between the Navy and the two large surface combatant shipyards, including Bath Iron Works.
“Secretary Austin, the administration's budget prioritizes national security and homeland security spending last, relative to seemingly every other area of the budget. That strikes me as not only unwise, but dangerous, particularly when we look at what the Chinese are doing,” Senator Collins said.
“One of the biggest mistakes in the budget, from my perspective, is the decision to cut a DDG from the current multi-year procurement contract,” Senator Collins continued. “This reflects a broader trend of not making the investments necessary to build anywhere close to a 355 ship Navy that multiple studies have confirmed is needed. China, on the other hand, now has the world's largest Navy, has about 60 more ships than our own fleet, and has surpassed our own 355 ship goal.”
“DDGs are the workhorse of the Navy, and the Flight IIIs will be the most capable ships in the world. We need more DDGs patrolling the Pacific, not fewer…My question is this: will you work with the committee to find ways to restore that DDG that has been cut?” Senator Collins concluded.
“Senator, you have my commitment that I'll continue to work with the committee to do everything we can to resource our Navy,” Secretary Austin responded. “I absolutely agree with you that 355 ships is a good goal to shoot for. And I want to make sure that we have the…right mix of capabilities. Size matters, but capabilities also matter. And so we're going to continue to work with the Navy and with this committee to make sure that we have the right capabilities in place. And our plan is to resource that DDG in fiscal year 23.”
“An admiral once told me that quantity has a quality all of its own,” Senator Collins responded. “I'm also very concerned about the impact on our industrial base. We only have two yards that build the large surface combatants, and Bath Iron Works in Maine has hired 3,000 additional shipbuilders since 2018…But if this budget passes, BIW is rushing toward a workload cliff that will lead to loss of jobs, reverse these productivity gains, and weaken the industrial base. So that's the other point that I would ask that you think about, the importance of bad productivity.”
As a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Collins has strongly pushed back against the Administration’s proposal to cut funding for destroyers. Following reports that fiscal year 2022 budget request would propose procuring only one DDG-51, the Maine Delegation wrote to President Biden to emphasize their opposition to this plan. After the release of President Biden’s budget request, the Maine Delegation released a statement underscoring their commitment to increasing procurement for DDG-51s.
The President’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request seeks a 1.6-percent increase in defense spending over the prior year, which is a cut in spending when taking into account inflation. The President’s budget requests a 16-percent increase in non-defense discretionary spending. The Navy has identified the restoration of the DDG-51 cut from the budget as its number one unfunded priority, indicating the Navy still believes it requires the ship, but budgetary constraints forced the service to prioritize other programs in its formal budget request. Congress ultimately determines the level of spending and fund allocation within the Navy in its annual appropriations bills and budget resolutions.
The Office of Naval Intelligence estimated that the Chinese Navy had about 360 ships in 2020, and China is expected to have a 400-ship fleet in 2025. Today, the United States Navy has 296 battle force ships.