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Carter Details Proposed 2017 Budget Capability Improvements for Navy

By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, February 4, 2016 — Defense Secretary Ash Carter previewed the department’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, highlighting for sailors in San Diego the new lethality the budget proposes for ships, submarines, aviation and munitions.

Carter is meeting this week with troops and defense community members around the country to preview the proposed defense budget.

Yesterday at Naval Base San Diego in California, he toured USS Spruance, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, and spoke with sailors from the Spruance and from USS Princeton, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser equipped for surface-to-air, surface-to-surface and anti-submarine warfare.

Congress makes the final budget decision, Carter told the sailors, “but we try to tell them what in our judgment … is the best use of the taxpayers’ money to defend our country.”

A substantial amount of the budget proposal is for the Navy, he added, “because of the centrality of the Navy to our strategy.”

SM-6 Missile Modification

Beginning with munitions, Carter said the sailors were the first to learn about a powerful new capability, secretly tested just last month, that builds on the existing SM-6 missile.

“You know the SM-6,” Carter said. “You launch it from surface ships. It's a fantastic surface-to-air weapon, highly maneuverable aerodynamically, and can stop incoming ballistic and cruise missiles … in the atmosphere at a very low altitude.”

He said the SM-6, already one of the department’s most modern and capable munitions, will be modified so that in addition to providing missile defense it also can target enemy ships at sea at extended ranges.

“This is a new anti-ship mode … that can shoot down airborne threats, and now [the same missile] can attack and destroy a ship at long range,” Carter said, calling it a potent new surface warfare capability.

Capabilities and Lethality

“You’re in the Navy, you're in the Pacific and you’re aboard two of the most formidable ships in the entire world,” he added, noting that the Spruance and Princeton would be among the ships receiving the lion's share of the new investments proposed in the 2017 budget.

The overall number of Navy ships will build to 308 from about 280 today, Carter said, but numbers alone are less important than the ships’ capabilities and lethality, he added.

The department will buy nine new Virginia-class attack submarines over the next five years, the secretary said, adding an extra Virginia payload module and tripling the vessels’ vertical launch tube strike capacity.

Carter said the Pentagon also will invest $600 million over the next five years in a new capability -- variable-size and -payload unmanned undersea vehicles.

New Competitors

Defense Department officials -- and the Navy itself, Carter said -- agreed that 40 littoral combat ships was a sufficient number.

Plans in 2002 called for more than 50, he said, but today the department must balance its shipbuilding investments among higher-end, more capable ships such as the Spruance and the Princeton.

“We face competitors who are challenging us in the open ocean, and we need to balance investment in those capabilities -- advanced capabilities -- in a way that we haven't had to do for quite a while,” he said. Buying 40 littoral combat ships will allow the department over the next 10 years to put about $8 billion more into high-end capabilities, “and that is the right decision for us to make at this strategic turning point,” he added.

Warships and Fighters

On Aegis destroyers, which Carter called the most lethal and capable warships ever built, the Pentagon will buy 10 new warships and modernize combat systems on 12 existing ships. For Navy aviation, the department will increase its purchase of fighters, to “more than we planned by dozens over the next five years,” the secretary said: 13 more F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters and 16 more F-18 Super Hornets than were planned.

“Those buys are all getting much bigger to give the Navy and the Marine Corps enough 4th- and 5th-generation aircraft for today’s fights and also for tomorrow's fights,” the secretary said.

Cutting Edge

With this proposed 2017 budget, the fleet will be larger and much more effective, potent and lethal than it is today, the secretary said.

“It will be equipped with the weapons and advanced capabilities that it will need to deter any aggressor and to make any aggressor who isn’t deterred very much regret their decision to take us on,” Carter said.

“That’s your job for the future, that's the job for the Navy in the future,” he added. “We need to invest in [those capabilities] and you -- right here, right now -- are at the cutting edge of those investments.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)