At hearing, Courtney presses defense secretary to release Navy shipbuilding plan to justify cuts to service's budget

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, pressed Defense Secretary Mark Esper to release to Congress the Navy's 30-year shipbuilding plan as required by law.

Courtney has argued the plan is needed to justify cuts to the Navy's shipbuilding budget next year, including an attack submarine. After questioning from Courtney during a hearing convened Wednesday by the House Armed Services Committee on the Navy's budget, Esper said that he hasn't seen the shipbuilding plan, contradicting recent news reports that say he is holding up its release.

"I'm awaiting its presentation to me," Esper said during the hearing. "Once I have had a chance to review it and digest it and follow up on it, at the appropriate point in time, I will share with you what I believe our future force structure should look like."

Yet news reports this week indicate Esper has spent two weeks reviewing the plan, which was supposed to be wrapped up by mid-January and released as part of President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2021 budget request, and is not ready to sign off on it.

Esper said Wednesday that he supports a bigger Navy, including more attack submarines, but that there are "two competing pressures right now": a topline budget that provides 2% less buying power, and the need to take care of overdue maintenance of Navy ships.

He cited a report released last year by the Government Accountability Office, which found that over the past five years, 75% of surface ships did not have maintenance completed on time. Half of those ships took over three months to get to sea.

"What that equates to is 19 ships in 2019 unavailable to go to sea. We cannot have a hollow Navy," Esper said. "I agree we need to build a 355-plus-ship Navy but we can't have a hollow Navy at the same time."

Courtney recently wrote to Esper with his Republican colleague Rep. Rob Wittman of Virginia asking Esper to release the Navy shipbuilding plan, which they said is "meant to provide larger strategic and analytical context needed to review the new budget request."

U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, both D-Conn., wrote Esper a similar letter recently asking him to justify the cuts.

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