Congress can’t deal with the Pentagon’s annual budget in a timely way, yet it wants the U.S. military to keep churning out regular reports detailing how many ships and airplanes it plans on buying for the next 30 years. The House Armed Services Committee’s investigative subcommittee looked into the topic this week. What was interesting about the hearing was the way one word — like that famous shark fin from the 1975 movie Jaws — kept circling around the hearing and occasionally slicing through the waves: China. (Even though this illuminating piece from Danger Room makes clear China’s much-discussed first aircraft carrier is simply a new generation of Chinese junk).
Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, is leery of such three-decade-into-the-future projections. “I hope that we can keep this hearing away from the personal and the parochial and focused on the strength of America,” he said. “I’m worried that a 30-year oversight plan like this could just be a new type of pork preservative as people seek to lock in constituent facilities that may be popular back home but may not strengthen America.” Good luck with that, congressman. Check out some of the concerns lawmakers voiced at the hearing:
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Newport News Shipyard:
Let me tell you what doesn’t change. Our risks don’t change. You know, the number of ships the Chinese have don’t change…If we need more ships in our Navy…like the Navy says that we have, we’re just confusing the American people and deceiving them when we put out a plan that says that we’re going to have to ramp that up in the next few years to get where our goals are, but we know there’s no way we’re going to get those dollars…no one can argue about the number of growing threats we face from both state and non-state actors, each with ever expanding capabilities ready to challenge our own.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Bath Iron Works:
We’re not meeting the need of building sufficient ships to power our Navy and that I see every day the diminishment of the industrial base…We, of course, believe that we build the best ships in the world in the state of Maine…all you have to do is take one look at China and think, you know, what are we letting go of in this country when we may easily find ourselves in the short run and certainly in the long run facing a much more powerful navy without the capacity to deal with it.
Rep. Steve Palazzo, R-Ignalls Shipbuilding:
With China’s military buildup, expected to continue particularly that of the Chinese Navy, do you feel that these delays and shortfalls in our own shipbuilding programs put us at risk?
Responded Vice Admiral John Blake, deputy chief of naval operations:
You can’t just…take a single item, go to a single data point and come up with a single solution. If you go down that path what you end up with is, in isolation any single issue is solvable, but when taken across the entire portfolio, what you have to do then is you have to balance your risk and recognize that you have fiscal limitations.
That would be parochial, the sage admiral was too wise to add.