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Navy Contracting Summit 2023: Strategic Outlook

government contracting news and events Aug 21, 2023
US Navy contracting summit

(U.S Navy Photo by MC1 Chad M. Butler. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense [DoD] visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.)

During the June 2023 Navy Contracting Summit in Virginia Beach, VA, several keynote speakers highlighted the importance of Fleet Readiness in today’s dynamic environment. With threats ranging from China, Russia, North Korea, and more, being ready for the future was a key theme during the event.

A consensus among experts at the Summit is that the United States lags behind China in delivering new ships equipped with advanced warfighting capabilities. Strategic defense experts at the Summit included Brent D. Sadler, a senior research fellow at the Naval Warfare and Advanced Technology Center for National Defense; Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and U.S. Representative Rob Wittman, Vice Chairman of the House Armed Forces Committee. Notably, they highlighted the South China Sea and the Suez Canal as pivotal theaters for naval superiority, where China’s strategic preparations are outpacing the U.S. without direct conflict. With a sharp focus on 2027, the “Davidson Window” is China’s focus on Taiwan. According to experts at the Summit, China is a pacing threat, Russia is an acute threat, and North Korea, Iran, and violent extremist organizations are a combined third greatest risk.

Mission Forward

Representative Wittman spoke about the urgency of Fleet Readiness due to adversarial intentions to undermine U.S. efforts. The Navy must be set up for success in the task of deterring action, he explained. Wittman also emphasized that Congress and the Navy are aligned, as evidenced by the last two Presidential Budgets outlining the need for 355 ships (we are at 297 today).

To ensure a strong and adaptable Navy, Wittman proposed several key strategies. He advocated for transforming the Navy into a Multi-Domain Threat, modernizing ships with advanced sensors for electronic warfare, and closing existing gaps. He believes in the significance of submarines, suggesting an increase in the number of Virginia-class submarines to gain a substantial undersea advantage. The Navy currently operates 46 submarines in the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) theater, which is under the 66-submarine requirement for the region. To remain competitive, Wittman said the service components need to share technology and offset capabilities and capacities in the Land, Sea, Space, and Cyber domains.

Amid a highly competitive environment, the Government can help contractors play a critical role using Other Transaction Authorities (OTAs), non-traditional avenues (, and one-time authorizations to bring in small companies with innovative technologies. Wittman believes the government must streamline the process of technology development and production, ensuring efficiency and cost-effectiveness. In contrast, he noted structured economy, their investment in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing, and the mining of critical minerals in South America and Africa through infrastructure development. The U.S., however, operates more autonomously, To bolster national security, Wittman said Congress needs to work closely with the U.S. Navy and contractors, maintaining a sense of urgency in critical areas like weapons supply, (e.g., directed energy such as lasers and rail guns, and liquid energy/batteries needed to power certain weapons), and existing weapons systems, sustaining the Army’s logistics Sealift capacity, focusing on mission-oriented platforms like unmanned underwater vehicles, and incorporating the most updated innovations such as Digital Twin Technology for modern warfare.

Wittman closed by saying Winston Churchill claimed the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world and always does the right thing – after exploring all available options.

Budgets and Structure

During the Summit, Mark Cancian spoke of the future of military budgets and strategy highlighting key points from the Biden Administration’s approach. With threats from China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, the administration wants to divest from certain areas to invest strategically, resulting in an overall reduction in forces.

Climate concerns also featured prominently in the budget, being mentioned 25 times in the National Security Strategy. A question that remains from the budget is whether the military structure should focus more on capability (modernization) or capacity (force structure) for current and future challenges.

Regarding modernization, the Great Power Conflicts with China and Russia necessitate the need for high-end systems to enhance lethality and survivability. This may entail reducing force deployments and accepting trade-offs in force structure in addition to advancing and revolutionizing technologies, according to Cancian. The force structure approach centers on crisis response and engagement with allies/partners in ongoing conflicts or regional threats. In these scenarios, the size of the force matters to maintain operational tempo. As a result, some lower capability systems are acceptable, and an emphasis is placed on upgrades and sustainment of existing systems over replacement with newer, advanced technology.

Cancian also spoke of alternative strategies, including exercising restraint in foreign affairs and focusing on national interest with limited foreign involvement.  Other administrative priorities include rebuilding domestically and reducing the deficit.

The recent budget deal for FY24 and FY25 has set a spending cap on all but the Veterans Administration. The budget deal for FY24 established $887B for the Department of Defense (to include National Security). However, Ukraine support is not capped and supplementals will be allowed (more funding may be needed for late summer). Officials in Congress have signaled their intent to use supplementals to increase defense spending.

Cancian also spoke of Navy issues regarding the allocation of resources with the rising threats in the Western Pacific and providing support for Ukraine. Moreover, the Navy’s desire to build up its surface program without any ships on the unfunded priority list counteracts the desire to retire 11 ships early. In addition, the political theater of continuing resolutions (CR) has added to the problems plaguing the Navy, as these temporary continuations of funds create many adverse effects. Finding a balance between supporting Ukraine and Taiwan, especially concerning the presidential drawdown authority in Taiwan, poses new challenges for the administration.

Take Aways

In conclusion, strategic experts agree that contractors can boost Naval competition. To strengthen the Navy, Congress, and the President must be consistent in their funding, provide more capital for shipyards and shipbuilding, assist the Navy in becoming a smarter customer (more flexibility in funding/contracting avenues), and modernize the shipyards. Working together to embrace innovation and transform shipyards can ensure a robust and agile Naval force to safeguard our nation’s security.

 


Written by Jennifer Wineinger
Jennifer is a capture and proposal expert at Trident. Jennifer’s skills as a proposal manager and capture manager include shaping, call plans, competitor and teammate research, market research, and pipeline development. As an Army veteran, spouse, and parent of active duty service members, she is based in the National Capitol Region where she supports clients around the world as part of our globally dispersed team. 

 

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