Forbes criticizes Navy’s ‘paper ships’

March 12, 2014, 12:27 pm

By Jeremy Herb

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) on Wednesday took aim at the Navy’s decision to  change the way it counts ships, chalking up the revision to adding “paper ships” to the fleet.

Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee, said  change in ship counting was an accounting gimmick that is masking the Navy’s  inability to meet the needs of combatant commanders.

“They’re paper ships,” Forbes said at a hearing on the Navy budget. “A change in counting will not help  meet a single one of those requirements of the combatant commanders.”

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus last week informed Congress that it was changing its  ship counting methodology to allow the counting of ships routinely requested by  commanders.

“I intend to alter the battle force ship counting methodology to be more  inclusive of certain conditional situations,” Mabus wrote.

“This change will provide flexibility to the Combatant Commanders to assess  the near-term environment and changing situations in meeting the demands of the  [Defense Strategic Guidance] DSG, and ensure that the ship types needed to  execute the DSG are captured,” he said.

The new counting means the Navy will include two hospital ships, a high-speed  transport ship and 10 small patrol craft, and it will reduce its count of mine  counter measure ships by three.

The new counting boosts the Navy’s ship totals to 293 from 283, putting the  Navy closer its goal of 306 ships — a number frequently cited by Forbes and  others who want the Navy to ramp up shipbuilding construction.

The Navy says it hopes to reach that figure by 2019 under its current  planning.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Forbes said that the Navy should be doing more to  meet the request of the military’s combatant commanders, which total 450  ships.

“I’ve heard discussion about our combatant commanders suggesting maybe these  guys came in with these wish lists,” Forbes said. “I can assure you they’re not  fluffed.”

Forbes also took issue with the Navy’s 2015 budget proposal, which takes  steps to retire the USS George Washington aircraft if sequestration is not  reversed, which would reduce the carrier fleet to 10 from 11.

The Pentagon included an additional $115 billion over the next five years  above the sequester spending caps, but those funds did not include funding for  the George Washington carrier refueling.

The Navy has said it won’t decide until next year whether to retire the  carrier and a carrier air wing, but Forbes argued Wednesday the Navy shouldn’t  have taken refueling funds out of this year’s budget if it still hadn’t made the  decision.

“There’s a huge disconnect between rhetoric we’re hearing and the actions we  are taking,” he said.

Mabus told Forbes that the budget moves were made to give the Navy another  year to decide on the George Washington, and he said the Navy has “exactly the  correct amount of time” to start refueling process in the 2016 budget.

“We have been given guidance to prepare looking at FY16 budget, to prepare  with the carrier in that budget,” Mabus said. “That is at least the initial  guidance.”

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