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Yesterday, the House Sea Power and Projection Forces Subcommittee, which provides Congressional oversight for the  U.S. Navy’s fleet requirements, held a hearing on the

capacity of U.S. Navy to project power with large surface combatants. During the hearing, the Chairman of the Committee, Congressman Randy Forbes, pressed the Navy on its proposal to indefinitely lay up a significant portion of its Ticonderoga Class Cruisers during a time of increasing demand for missile defense capable ships by U.S. Combatant Commanders. Five of the ships the Navy proposes to remove from active service are equipped with Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Systems. 

Below is the verbatim discussion between Chairman Forbes and the Navy’s Director of Surface Warfare, Rear Admiral Peter Fanta: 

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Chairman Forbes: As I understand it the current BMD requirements are 40. I think your goal….and you now how 33 ships, is that correct? Don’t let me put words in your mouth you tell me if I’m incorrect or not?

RADM Fanta: Yes sir. Our requirement at this point is 40 advanced capability ships that have the capability of both knocking down an incoming ballistic missile while simultaneously looking for and firing upon an incoming cruise missile that’s at the surface of the ocean. That’s a minimum of 40 advanced capability ballistic missile ships. I have approximately 33 ballistic missile capable ships, that’s not to say that they’re advanced to that level. We will reach that at a current build rate of that 40 ships in approximately the mid 20’s at this point, of those advanced capability ships.

Chairman Forbes: So you need on your requirements 40, with the advanced capabilities, and right now you have 33, but they do not all have advanced capabilities on them.

RADM Fanta: That’s correct sir, we are modernizing those ships and we are building more with the advanced capability even as we speak.

Chairman Forbes: Is your fleet modernization plan apply to the BMD ships as well?

RADM Fanta: Ideally it will…

Chairman Forbes [interrupts]: Fleet response plan

RADM Fanta: Yes. Ideally it will, at this point we have started it around the carrier strike crew. A lot of the ballistic missile deployers are independent deployers. So what we would do eventually is bring them into that response plan, they are not necessarily currently under that cycle that will be out towards the 20’s before we put all of these together.

Chairman Forbes: So it would be fair to say that today we have the need for 40 with the advanced capability and we only have 33 and they do not all have the advanced capability. Right now we do not really have a plan about getting those deployments down from the average 9.27, or something, for our BMD capable ships. Is that fair?

RADM Fanta: Let me adjust that slightly sir, there is a difference because advance capability ships are primarily used to defend Navy assets in a high end fight at sea against a near peer competitor with advanced capabilities. The BMD ships, that I spoke of earlier, that we have in the low 30’s right now and continue to build more, are primarily for COCOM requests to protect other assets such as defended assets lists in various parts of the world. So they are perfectly capable of handling advanced threats, but just in that one BMD capability. What we don’t want to do is mix that peace time presence requirement of those, we’ll call them baseline capability ballistic missile ships, with the advanced ones. I need to beat a high-end competitor at sea, in the middle of a fight, in the middle of the ocean.

Chairman Forbes: I just want to make sure I’ve got this. On the 40 ship requirement that you need to have, with the advanced capability, you now have 33 BMD capable ships, not all with the advanced capability. But it is my understanding from what you have said, that I really do not, at this time, I hope to later, have a plan that will help me get the deployments down on the ships that I have from that 9.2 to roughly 7-8 months time at that time. Is that fair?

RADM Fanta: Yes sir, that’s fair. It’s not that we do not have a plan, it is that we need to get to the numbers to allow us to implement…

Chairman Forbes: So you need more numbers to get there?

RADM Fanta: I would need more total numbers of capability not capacity. In other words, I need to modernize to get to those numbers.

Chairman Forbes: So you would need more numbers to get there. Two last bullet points: the demand signal is actually much higher than the requirements, your current demand signal from the COCOMs from the BMD ships would be around 77 ships, is that fair to say?

RADM Fanta: The demand signal is two-fold sir, for a high-end naval warfight and protection of naval assets and our bases that we need to fight in various places of the world is the 40 ships that I discussed. On top of that COCOM’s have a requirement, if you look at it from another X number of spots, today it might be 77 total ships including the 40, 77 spots around the world that we might put a ballistic missile defense ship to cover some contingency of some nation threatening us or threatening an ally or threatening a vital asset with a ballistic missile at that point. So if you don’t think upon it as ‘I need a ship there all the time.’ It’s a spot in the ocean where I might need a ship some time in the future against a potential adversary that threatens us or an ally.

Chairman Forbes: But you can’t cover all of that today with the current fleet that we have, would that be fair to say?

RADM Fanta: That’s fair, I need to modernize to get to those numbers.

Chairman Forbes: And you need more numbers?

RADM Fanta: I need to at least modernize, if I have every ship modernized at least to the point where every ship can handle that threat, then the numbers work out correctly.

Chairman Forbes: Well let’s go back to the 33 that you’ve got. Would it help you if this committee could help you get three ships and then you’d have 36 vs. 33?

RADM Fanta: It depends on when because then…

Chairman Forbes: Suppose we could give them to you tomorrow.

RADM Fanta: Then it would always help.

Chairman Forbes: Suppose then that instead of three I could get you six? Would that help you better than the three?

RADM Fanta: I can’t build them that fast…

Chairman Forbes: Well let’s assume I could.

RADM Fanta: Well if you could then absolutely.

Chairman Forbes: On the flip side, would it hurt you if you had less than the 33?

RADM Fanta: Yes sir, from a warfighting perspective. 

Chairman Forbes: Then tell me how in the world the Navy can take out 11 cruisers when five of those have BMD capability on them.

RADM Fanta: Because of the way that I am blending in the capability of that advanced capability.

Chairman Forbes: That’s not my question and I don’t want to put you in a difficult spot but here’s what I’m saying. You’ve just told me if you have five more it will help you significantly. We’ve got five cruisers out there with BMD capability that the Navy is telling me that they want to pull off line today, so I’m not promising you those next month or six years, I’m saying you got them today and the Navy’s telling me that they want to take them out of that fleet. It’s got to make sense that that would hurt us and stretch us on our BMD capabilities that were are currently looking at today. So explain to me how that would not.

RADM Fanta: What I’m trying to, yes, first answer is yes. The second answer, I have more concerns 5-7 years from now when the numbers of threats increase so I would rather have those cruisers available at that time.

Chairman Forbes: So what you’re saying is, and you’ve been fair in saying this, is that you’re taking risk today so that you’ll have them tomorrow. But what we’re also saying is, and the Navy is telling us this, because when the Navy when they first came out suggested that we took seven of those cruisers out and never even talked about having them tomorrow. The Navy doesn’t have them in their fight up at all. So basically, what I think we can agree on is if you have five less BMD capable ships, it’s going to be much more difficult for you, at least in the short term, than if you had those five cruisers. Is that fair to say?

RADM Fanta: Yes, sir. 

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Watch the full hearing here

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