Sullivan Blasts U.S. Navy for Violating Law, Putting American Lives at Risk
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), spoke on the Senate floor last night about the U.S. Navy’s flagrant violation of a law requiring the Department of Defense (DOD) to maintain a minimum of 31 amphibious warships. Two weeks ago, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro appeared before the committee with a 30-year shipbuilding plan that never reaches the 31-ship statutory minimum. The 31-amphibious warship provision was authored by Senator Sullivan, supported unanimously by Democrats and Republicans on SASC, and signed into law as part of the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. Sen. Sullivan argued that the DOD’s defiance of Congress in this matter sets a dangerous precedent, erodes the rule of law, and undermines the authority of the American people’s elected representatives.
“The U.S. Navy is violating the law,” said Sen. Sullivan. “The U.S. Navy is treating that law—31 amphibs, a minimum—as a suggestion from the Congress, as an option from the Congress. The Secretary of the Navy, the CNO, and the Vice CNO came to the Congress in the last two weeks and said: ‘Your 31 amphib ship requirement, we are going to ignore it.’ This cannot happen. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you are a hawk on defense issues or a dove on defense issues, if you are a U.S. Senator, this should make you really mad. The Navy, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of Defense are thumbing their nose at this body, are breaking the law as we speak, are intending to break the law for the next 30 years.”
Sen. Sullivan also argued that, without the requisite number of amphibious vessels, the Marine Corps is unable to execute vital rescue missions of American citizens caught in warzones, putting American lives at greater risk. This reality was highlighted in the widely-reported recent haphazard evacuations in Sudan, where American citizens were taken by contract buses across dangerous portions of the war-torn country to a port on the eastern coast of Africa. According to reporting in Defense News, “the Navy didn’t have another set of ready amphibious ships to deploy from the East Coast on short notice.”
“They are putting the lives of American citizens at risk,” said Sen. Sullivan. “Why do I say that? [The recent Sudan evacuation] is a mission tailor-made for the U.S. Marine Corps, whether in an embassy or another dangerous part of the world--what we call a noncombatant evacuation operation, a NEO. The Marines do them all the time. They bring up their amphibs, launch helos, launch support craft, helicopters, fighters, if they need the air support. But guess what they can't do it without? They can't do it without amphibious ships. And right now, we don't have enough. So we dodged a bullet two weeks ago in Sudan. American citizens were put on buses and driven across dangerous parts of Sudan in a civil war, for hours after hours, and got to a port, self-evacuated on some other country's ships. We are so lucky that those Americans did not get killed or wounded because there was no Marine Corps to rescue them.”
Madam President, recently, there have been numerous articles in the media about the U.S. Navy's lack of amphibious ships--one that I would like to submit for the Record, headlined “Grounding of U.S. Marine Unit Spotlights Lack of Ships in Asia-Pacific.”
In this piece, the writer leads with how the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, a rapid response force of the Marine Corps designed for quick deployment on three Navy ships--what we call an “amphibious ready group”--how they were forced to abandon a training exercise because the amphibious warships that they are supposed to train on were not available due to maintenance problems.
Here is what the article said in part:
“The Marine unit's grounded status illustrates the larger obstacles the United States is facing as it tries to pivot its military to handle the challenges from China. Overall, defense officials said the Navy doesn't have enough amphibious ships to transport marines, and a central part of the Marine Corps' mission is to hop from island to island in the Asia-Pacific and harry Chinese forces in the event of a conflict.”
By the way, Mr. President, the Marines are really good at this. They have been doing it for decades. But they need ships.
Another article from Defense News is also a recent one about the lack of amphibious ships and the problem that poses. This one is from another part of the world but very recent. The article starts with how hundreds of American citizens were stranded in war-torn Sudan.
“Hundreds of Americans in war-torn Sudan last month needed a way out of the country, but the U.S. Marine Corps, the go-to service for such rescues [of American citizens] couldn't help.”
The article continued:
“Typically, this kind of mission would be standard for the Navy and Marine Corps' amphibious ready group—"
A Marine expeditionary unit, or what we call in the Marine Corps a MEU, a MEU-R, a Marine expeditionary unit, an amphibious ready group--three ships, super well trained, special operations capable, can go anywhere in the world, kick the door in, save American citizens.
The article continues:
“For the Americans who fled to the coast [in Sudan] the Pentagon sent an auxiliary transport ship—"
that they contracted out, I believe, from another country--
“to shuttle them safely to . . . Saudi Arabia.”
It was, in essence, a self-evacuation of U.S. citizens.
Mr. President, NPR reported that the buses actually took hundreds of Americans to the Port of Sudan. Imagine--imagine--my colleagues, what would have happened had those Americans, traveling in contract buses in the middle of a civil war, got caught in the crossfire.
The article that I just quoted was entitled “Marines want 31 amphibious ships. The Pentagon disagrees. Now what?” I ask unanimous consent to have that article printed in the Record at the end of my remarks.
Finally, Mr. President, there was another recent article from Defense One. Its title was “Navy On Path To Violate 31-Amphibious-Ship Requirement in 2024.”
Now, Mr. President, this is what I wanted to get to. Last year, in the Armed Services Committee, we held a number of hearings with the Navy and the Marine Corps saying: What is the minimum number of amphibious ships that would enable the Marine Corps to do its global force response mission--the minimum number? After many hearings, after much discussion with the Marines and Navy, we came up, in a bill of mine, with a minimum of 31 ships.
This bill in the Armed Services Committee last year passed unanimously. Every Democrat and every Republican voted for it.
The law now reads as follows. I know this is a little small, but here is the new U.S. Code that has the new language. It says:
“The naval combat forces of the Navy shall include not less than 11 operational aircraft carriers and not less than 31 operational amphibious warfare ships, of which not less than 10 shall be amphibious assault ships—"
What we call in the Marine Corps “big-deck assault ships” that can carry helicopters and Ospreys and Harriers and now F-35 Bravos. That was the law. That passed. The President signed it.
Here is the problem. The U.S. Navy is violating the law. The U.S. Navy is treating that law--31 amphibs, a minimum--as a suggestion from the Congress, as an option from the Congress.
How do I know? Because we had a hearing 2 weeks ago on the Armed Services Committee, and the Secretary of the Navy essentially said: We are looking at different options for the President's budget on how many amphibs that the Navy is going to have.
And, currently, the Navy presented a budget that doesn't have 31 amphibs.
I had some cross words with the Secretary of the Navy, the CNO of the Navy, because they are violating the law. And I will tell you, my Democratic and Republican colleagues on the Armed Services Committee were supportive of what I was saying. We had a hearing on the Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee yesterday. The Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Franchetti, said that the Navy was “studying the issue.”
The Navy can't study the issue anymore. The Navy needs to follow the law. The U.S. Congress has done the studies. We need the ships.
But here is what the Navy presented to the Armed Services Committee 2 weeks ago. They provided us their 30-year shipbuilding plan for the Navy. Right here is the 31 amphib ship statutory minimum that is required by the law. Here is the Navy shipbuilding plan for the next 30 years. You see in the numbers, these are different options: plan one, plan two, plan three.
You might notice the Navy never gets to 31 amphibs. So the Secretary of the Navy, the CNO of the Navy, and the Vice CNO of the Navy came to the Congress in the last 2 weeks and said: Your 31 amphib ship requirement, we are going to ignore it. Your 31 amphib ship requirement, Congress, United States of America, we are going to violate that.
This is unacceptable. The U.S. Navy, the Secretary of the Navy, the Secretary of Defense should not be thumbing their nose at the Congress, and, worse, they should not be violating the law and not trying to abide by the law. They are saying, for 30 years, we are going to ignore the Congress, and we are going to ignore the laws of the United States of America.
This cannot happen. This cannot happen.
Let me end with this. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you are a hawk on defense issues or a dove on defense issues, if you are a U.S. Senator, this should make you really mad. This should make you really mad.
Last year, the Congress spoke. And, again, on the Armed Services Committee, on which I serve, it was unanimous. Every member of that committee who had studied the issue said, at a minimum, the Navy needs 31 amphibs so the U.S. Marine Corps can do its mission around the world. Everybody agreed. We passed the law.
The Navy, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of Defense are thumbing their nose at this body, are breaking the law as we speak, are intending to break the law for the next 30 years. That is their 30-year shipbuilding plan. It never hits 31 ships.
But here is the worst thing they are doing, and this is a real serious issue. They are putting the lives of American citizens at risk. Why do I say that? Well, let me end where I began, with Sudan, the rescue of American citizens. Again, normally, that is a mission tailor-made for the U.S. Marine Corps, whether in an embassy or another dangerous part of the world--what we call a noncombatant evacuation operation, a NEO. The Marines do them all the time. They bring up their amphibs, launch helos, launch support craft, helicopters, fighters, if they need the air support.
The capability of a MEU-R to go rescue American citizens--a lot of them--is unsurpassed by any service in the world.
The U.S. Marines do it all the time. But guess what they can't do it without? They can't do it without amphibious ships. And right now, we don't have enough. So we dodged a bullet 2 weeks ago in Sudan.
American citizens were put on buses and driven across dangerous parts of Sudan in a civil war, for hours after hours, and got to a port, self-evacuated on some other country's ships. We are so lucky that those Americans did not get killed or wounded--did not get killed or wounded--because there was no Marine Corps to rescue them.
I am going to keep raising this issue. The Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy, today, are violating the law. Today, they have no intention of meeting this 31 amphib ship requirement, and American citizens are at risk. And the next time we might not be so lucky. The next time Americans somewhere around the world need to be rescued, the next time an enemy of our country does something nefarious to our citizens, our national interests, and we don't have the ability to respond as a Marine Corps because we don't have the ships, we are going to know who is responsible.
I yield floor.
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