Lawmakers to restrict Navy funds if Esper does not release Navy shipbuilding plans


WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper would have his funding restricted if he does not release the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan to Congress as required by law, according to a House subcommittee’s draft of the defense funding bill.

“This is trying to reinforce that point that we need to see the 30-year shipbuilding plan so that we can see what’s projected in the out year, what the strategy is,” an aide to the House Armed Services Committee’s subpanel on seapower and projection forces said Monday during a call with reporters.

The subcommittee’s draft of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act would restrict 75% of Esper’s operation and maintenance funds until he submits the 30-year plan to Congress. The actual funding amount to be restricted will not be available until a draft from Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the chairman of House Armed Services Committee, is published next week.

The 30-year shipbuilding plan is meant to be submitted to Congress along with the proposed Defense Department budget, allowing lawmakers to see how the Navy plans to build certain vessels over time with the funding. The Navy’s goal is to reach 355 or more battle force ships by 2030. But for fiscal year 2021, the Navy is requesting less shipbuilding money in order to put it towards operations and maintenance.

Esper had been reviewing the plan to compare it to the Navy’s 2020 Integrated Force Structure Assessment, former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told House lawmakers in February. The assessment details the Navy’s plans for the specific makeup of its fleet, such as how many aircraft carriers, submarines and destroyers the service needs to compete against Russia and China.

In February, Esper told the House Armed Services Committee that the delay in submitting the 30-year shipbuilding plan was because he wanted to give them “the right plan, a good plan.”

The subcommittee’s draft of NDAA, which sets funding for the Defense Department, would also restrict money from being used to retire any Navy vessel until Esper releases the 2020 Integrated Force Structure Assessment.

Some House lawmakers were not happy with the Navy’s budget proposal in 2020 when service leaders tried to retire the USS Harry S. Truman halfway through the aircraft carrier’s operational life in order to reinvest the funds meant to refuel the ship’s nuclear reactor in other capabilities, such as unmanned ships.

For fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1, the subcommittee’s draft calls for prohibiting the retirement of any aircraft carrier before its first refueling.

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