June 24 (UPI) -- The acting secretary of the U.S. Navy on Thursday defended the call for only one Arleigh Burke-class Flight III destroyer in this year's budget instead of two during a congressional budget hearing.
Several officials have cited cost as the reason the Navy sought only one DDG in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget instead of two planned in the current multi-year contract between the service and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Ingalls Shipbuilding, USNI first reported.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker further defended the FY 2022 budget request in response to a question from Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, in congressional hearing Thursday about breaking plan for two destroyers in the current multi-year contract.
"We really struggled to take that out of this year's budget," Harker said in the hearing. "It was the hardest decision we made. And we would loved to have been able to include it. Going into this next year, we are committed to multi-years for both submarines and for DDGs."
"Over the last multi-year period, it was a 10-ship multiyear over a five year period, with the assistance of the committees and the congress we were able to purchase 10 ships," he continued. "So, the one that's in our budget this year will be an 11th ship that gave us the ability to not buy the DDG this year, but it was a very difficult decision for us, sir."
Harker added in the congressional hearing Thursday that the Navy plans to enter another multi-year contract for Arleigh Burke Flight III destroyers in FY 2023 - FY 2027.
"Multi-year contracts are very important to us," Harker said. "We do intend to sign another multi-year for DDGs starting in '23 through '27 and continue that procurement into the foreseeable future. DDG-51 is a very valuable asset for us."
Rear Admiral Michael Gilday added during the hearing that the Navy had to balance priorities for readiness for its 296 ships, modernization, and "growing the Navy at an affordable rate."
Earlier this week, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Harker confirmed to Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, that there would be a $33 million penalty for breaking the current multi-year contract if it buys only one destroyer in FY 2022.
King also emphasized during the hearing "not only the lack of the destroyer," but also the impact the decision to break the contract would have on the shipbuilding industrial base.
"The principal of breaking a multiyear [contract], I would argue, sends a shudder through the industrial base in terms of their investment," in capacity and training, King said.
The second DDG is a top item on the Navy's 2022 Unfunded Priority List and may still be eligible for funding if Congress adds funds to the Navy's budget, Seapower Magazine reported.
At an appropriations hearing earlier this week, Sen. Susan Collins, D-Maine, questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about the proposal to add only one DDG instead of the two previously projected.
"One of the biggest mistakes in the budget, from my perspective, is the decision to cut a DDG from the current multi-year procurement contract," Collins said.
"This reflects a broader trend of not making the investments necessary to build anywhere close to a 355 ship Navy that multiple studies have confirmed is needed. China, on the other hand, now has the world's largest Navy, has about 60 more ships than our own fleet, and has surpassed our own 355 ship goal," Collins said.
Austin responded that he agreed that "355 ships is a good goal to shoot for," and added that the plan is to order the second DDG in FY 2023.