The people's voice of reason

Tuberville seeking answers on shipbuilding delays and workforce concerns

If you haven’t been paying attention, the United States is facing an arms race with China and Russia like this country has not experienced since the 1980s. China has the largest fleet on the planet and Congress has become frustrated by the Navy’s chronic inability to produce ships.

Last week, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama) questioned Commandant of Marine Corps General Eric Smith, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Lisa Franchetti, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Senator Tuberville asked the officials about the U.S.’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific, shipbuilding delays, and workforce concerns.

“I was able to recently meet with some Marines that came from the Indo-Pacific—great people. Let me tell you, they're exactly what we need in our military. What resources can Congress assist with to better support our mission in the Indo-Pacific?” Tuberville asked.

“Senator, thanks for that question. Thanks for the praise of our Marines. I share it. My own son is a Marine,” said Gen. Smith. “What I would say, Sir, is we need predictable, steady funding for our amphibious warfare ships. We need LHA's on four-year centers and LPDs on two-year centers. Because that provides us the operational flexibility and mobility that's required to counter the PRC.”

“I know you've kept an eye on the Middle East, and we have seen unmanned drones—small, unmanned drones,” Tuberville asked. “Talk about what we've learned and what we can take from there to the Indo-Pacific in this next incursion.”

“Yes, sir. What we've learned is that directed energy weapons are gonna be a thing of the future because we can't get into a reverse cost curve where we're expanding, you know, million-dollar missiles to shoot down hundred-dollar drones,” said Smith. “We've got to invest in the technology and the capability to disable drones in flight. To disable their targeting infrastructure and to knock them down without shooting a missile at them because that's, again, that's putting us on the wrong side of the cost curve. And we're working on that now at the Marine Corps fighting lab.”

“We've talked about it quite often. Secretary Del Toro, the Navy recently released their 45-day ship building review last month and there are significant delays,” asked Tuberville. “The Columbia class are now 12-16 months late. We make components in Mobile for the Columbia class, and we hear a lot about studying this and doing a report on that. You know, we need results, obviously. [...] What are we doing to fix this?”

“Yes, sir. Well, it's this just one example, Senator, and I know your commitment and passion for this,” said Del Toro. “You know, down in Austal, for example, the Navy actually worked very closely with Austal over the last couple of years to turn it into steel production facility. And I have been encouraging the big primes over the last two and a half years that I've been Secretary, aggressively. To actually outsource more of their work hours to companies like Austal and the smaller shipyards so they can help with production. So, in 2023 alone, we had three million additional hours of outsourcing that's taking place. We hope to increase that in 2024, hopefully, to six million. Right? And it's the smallest shipyards that actually help as part of the team to then increase the production rates. [...] I think we're going to see production rates continue to grow in the future because of those efforts.”

Tuberville asked, “Yeah. And we're also running into a problem. You know, we budget it. We appropriate it, but we're having a tough time allocating money for some reason. We're running into a stonewall of people not doing their damn job, to be honest with you. And, you know if we can't get the money allocated, we can't build anything. We can't pay people for work and we're having a tough time now getting people to work and people that are trained to work. And it's getting worse and worse. It is not getting better.”

“No, sir. And I agree with you,” Del Toro said.

“Yeah. And, you know, we're working very hard to train people. We're actually recruiting out of McDonald's, Walmarts,” said Tuberville.

Del Toro said, “Yes, Sir.”

Tuberville asked, “And welders and all those things. I mean, we're in a tough time right now of getting people actually off the couch back to work and getting them trained.” […]

Del Toro replied, “I think we need to get innovative, Senator.”

Tuberville asked about armed forces recruiting standards.

Tuberville asked, “Are we taking non-citizens, non-American citizens in the Navy?”

Franchetti answered, “We only take people that are legally allowed to enter the Navy.”

China is building its ships faster than the U.S. is. The Navy has a goal of building 66 nuclear powered Virginia class attack submarines and yet the average submarine is 1.2 years late. The Navy cut its request for 2 Virginia class submarines per year to just 1 in FY2025. The delays are causing some members of Congress to consider a program to extend the service life of the 1970s era Los Angeles class attack subs that the Virginia’s are supposed to replace. Because of a problematic service record, the Navy has retired Independence and Freedom class littoral combat ships well before half of their service lives are finished without any plan for a replacement in the anti-submarine warfare and minesweeper roles the LCS’s were supposed to help address.

Tuberville is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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