Washington – With no fiscal 2017 defense budget in sight and little chance of an agreement before April – if then – the military services are submitting second and possibly third rounds of unfunded requirements lists to Congress. The lists include items left out of the original budget requests, ranked in order of priority should Congress find a way to fund them.
The latest list from the US Navy was sent to Congress Jan. 5, updating a similar list sent over at the end of February but rejiggered in light of the new 355-ship Force Structure Assessment, changes in requirements and the lateness of the fiscal year, which limit what can be done in the current budget. The new list also reflects what Navy leaders have been saying in recent weeks they need most – maintenance funding. While the late February list lead off with acquisition needs, the new top priorities include $2 billion in afloat readiness funding.
But the list remains a work in progress, a Navy official said, and includes input from the new Trump administration. An updated list is being prepared in advance of readiness hearings scheduled next month at which the service vice chiefs will testify – a Feb. 7 hearing before the full House Armed Services Committee, and a hearing the following day before the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee.
Even then, the Navy official said, “it’s not clear another formal list will be prepared.”
As happens when any new administration takes over, the Pentagon is revising its budget to reflect the new leaders’ priorities, and budget work is far from over.
“It’s all going to change. It’s still very much in motion,” the Navy official said.
But the top 9 priorities of the 59 items listed in the Jan. 5 list remain in place, said the Navy official. Those items are:
– Ship Depot Maintenance ($647 million)
– Air Operations/Flying Hours ($504 million)
– Information Warfare/Other Support ($355 million)
– Ship Operations ($339 million)
– Waterfront Equipment, Service Craft, Boat Procurement ($68 million)
– Service Craft Maintenance and Overhaul ($53 million)
– Sealift Support Readiness ($32 million)
– Full-Scale Aerial Targets (an additional 5 QF-16 drone targets)($26 million)
– High-Speed Maneuverable Surface Targets (56 targets)($10 million)
Air operations include $260 million for US Marine Corps aviation readiness.
The maintenance needs reflect Navy decisions in recent years to put off upkeep and protect long-term procurement accounts from successive cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act – also known as sequestration. But recent statements from top Navy brass underscore the need to restore maintenance money.
“Our priorities are unambiguously focused on readiness — those things required to get planes in the air, ships and subs at sea, sailors trained and ready,” the Navy official declared. “No new starts.”
Placing information warfare at No. 3 reflects a need to address “readiness shortfalls in all disciplines of the information warfare community – cyberspace operations, electronic warfare, intelligence, battlespace awareness and assured command and control,” the Navy said in its Jan. 5 note to Congress.
It’s notable that humble service craft – the myriad supply, service and berthing barges, floating workshops and other small craft seen in any naval base – make it to the five and six priority slots. Such craft are often in service for many decades – many date from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War eras — and it’s unusual for the Navy to bestow on them such a high priority.
“The goal is to go after things that we can fix quickly to keep the fleet operating and that are executable,” the Navy official said. “The last thing we want to do is waste money or go after things that are not immediately needed.”
The Navy official added that items on the list that don’t make it in to the 2017 budget are likely to be included in the 2018 or 2019 requests.
Other significant items on the unfunded list include:
– 24 F/A-18 E and F Super Hornet strike fighters ($2.3 billion)
– 6 P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft ($1.2 billion)
– 2 F-35C carrier-based Joint Strike Fighters ($270 million)
– 2 C-40A transport aircraft for the Naval Reserve ($207 million)
– An additional 96 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles ($154 million)
– Increase the maximum production rate of SM-6 Block 1A missiles to 125 per year ($75 million)
– An additional 75 AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles ($33 million)
– Funding over-the-horizon missile installations on the two littoral combat ships ($43 million)
The unfunded requirements list also includes several ships:
– A 13 th LPD 17-class amphibious ship ($1.83 billion)
– An additional T-AOX fleet oiler ($547 million)
– An additional EPF expeditionary fast transport ($256 million)
– Installation of the Air Missile Defense Radar in the 3 rd FY 2016 destroyer ($433 million)
The service also is seeking $255 million to improve the General Dynamics Electric Boat Quonset Point facility in Rhode Island to expand to building three Virginia-class attack submarines per year.