Projecting Power Through Logistics
Congressman Rob Wittman on how this year’s proposed NDAA is setting the US Military up to deter, win
Congressman Rob Wittman, (R-VA01), Representative for Virginia 1st Congressional District in the US House of Representatives, provided a video message for attendees of the Surface Port Projection conference held virtually July 29-30, 2020.
The conference was presented by the National Defense Transportation Association (NDTA) and Christopher Newport University’s Center for American Studies (CNU CAS), in collaboration with the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC), the US Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD), and the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA). The theme of this year’s conference was Enabling Dynamic Force Employment Through Global Port Readiness.
As ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Subcommittee and Co-Chair of the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus, Wittman is an advocate of maintaining a robust Naval fleet and a healthy domestic shipbuilding industry.
Congress was in the process of passing this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). At the time of Wittman’s comments, the bill still needed to pass the House and go through conference in the Senate, before being sent to President Trump for signature.
The Seapower and Projection Subcommittee had worked to ensure that the nation’s priorities, as they related to transportation and strategic assets within the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, were well addressed by the bill. In particular, the subcommittee sought to enhance US underseas strike capabilities.
“Our attack submarines, that is specifically our Virginia class submarines, are extraordinarily important as to the Navy’s asset elements of what it needs to do to maintain underseas superiority,” said Rep. Wittman. “This year’s original President’s budget proposed to fund only one Virginia-class submarine and we know with the upcoming retirements of Los Angeles-class submarines that building Virginia-class submarines at a greater pace is absolutely necessary because we dip down below—well below—the requirement for attack submarines.” To address that dip, one additional Virginia-class submarine was added to the NDAA this year.
In addition, a pathway was created for a more efficient build for the Columbia-class submarines, which is the replacement for the Ohio-class submarine and an important piece of the US nuclear triad. In this scenario, efficiencies were gained by prefunding the first two submarines in that class to obtain economies of scale in purchasing equipment and materials for those submarines.
The US logistics fleet, better known as the Ready Reserve Fleet (RFF), is aging and in need of replacements. Ships in the RFF are approaching an average of 44-years old. Wittman reported that this year an additional four ships were authorized to be added to the RFF. Adding these ships is critical, however more needs to be done to speed up the effort to build these capabilities.
He also commented on tanker security. “We have to make sure that we have a security program for our tankers,” said Rep. Wittman. “Our tankers go to deliver fuel to our ships and our aircraft, but they are also vulnerable. We know that if you take out the supply of fuel, there is only so long that aircraft can fly off the deck of aircraft carriers, [and] there’s only so far ships can go without fuel, so making sure that we secure our tankers is incredibly important.” He added that tanker security is being address in this year’s NDAA.
Underscoring the importance of logistics to the military, Wittman commented, “Logistics, while not making the headlines, is the most important part of what our military has to do to ensure success of its operations. We hear many times about tactical capability and even about the larger strategic capability, but if you can’t sustain your operation with supplies and with fuel then no matter how good your combat systems are then you will fail ultimately in your objective—and that is, when called upon, to defeat the enemy.”
Airlift capabilities require having the assets necessary to get members of the Air Force to the fight. One element of this is the ability to sustain those assets as they travel long distances, which necessitates reliable tanker aircraft. The Defense Department has been in the process of constructing new, replacement tanker aircraft, the KC-46A. This aircraft will replace the KC-135s and KC-10s, which are aging and in dire need of being replaced. However, the program has proven deficient. This year’s NDAA will reduce the number of aircraft being purchased to the minimum allowed in the contact to provide time to correct issues with the program.
“This year I think we go a long way in putting the pieces together of building additional readiness, of building additional capacity and capability within our forces,” said Rep. Wittman about the proposed NDAA. “I want to make sure that we are always in a position to win, if called upon, but to be strong enough to deter aggression by our adversaries—that’s the way we maintain a safe and secure world.”