WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the top Republican on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, questioned President Biden’s Chief of Naval Operations nominee, Admiral Lisa M. Franchetti, at a hearing this week about the importance of nuclear deterrence and the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) program.

During the hearing, Admiral Franchetti publicly endorsed the SLCM program, which the Biden administration has attempted to cancel multiple times. 

Senator Fischer secured a provision in the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 that codifies SLCM as a program of record.

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Following is an edited transcript of Senator Fischer’s questioning:

Senator Fischer: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Admiral, for providing your insight in our meeting last week. I wanted to follow up on that discussion. As we discussed, the Columbia program is on a tight timeline to deliver the first submarine to the Navy in 2027. What actions is the Navy taking to ensure that we can meet this schedule, given the residual workforce and the supply chain challenges that we discussed?

Admiral Franchetti: Senator Fischer, again, it was nice to meet you the other day. And, you know, the Columbia program has been the Navy's number one priority. And if confirmed, that will remain my number one priority. It's essential that we recapitalize the incredible deterrent capability that we have. Columbia started out on an accelerated schedule. We are no longer on the accelerated schedule, but we are meeting the contracted delivery schedule for Columbia. We are continuing to work closely with industry, again, against all those challenges that have described earlier and continuing to provide the right level of oversight - so we understand where we are. It is an all hands on deck effort to ensure that we stay on time. Separately, we have developed a mitigation strategy to extend some of our Ohio-class submarines in the event that Columbia does not deliver on time. But I am fully committed, if confirmed, to ensuring Columbia delivers on time.

Senator Fischer: How important do you think it is that Congress include the requested anomaly in the upcoming stop-gap spending bill to allow the Navy to begin construction on the second Columbia-class submarine? 

Admiral Franchetti: Well, it's absolutely critical. We have nine ships in the budget request, and we won't be able to start on four of them under a CR. So, Columbia is one of them. And we would essentially need an anomaly to be able to not get behind on our commitment to deliver on this strategic deterrent for our nation.

Senator Fischer: A number of the technologies are available now. And there's a lot under development, I think, that are going to enhance an operational gap that we see in a number of platforms and a number of programs, in trying to address the threats that we face from our adversaries. Can you explain to this committee what role you assess unmanned platforms to play in a future navy?

Admiral Franchetti: Well, thank you, Senator. You know, I think it will really take a mix of all our platforms. It's a big ecosystem of warfighting between our conventional platforms, definitely see a future for unmanned platforms under, on, and above the sea, in working in concert with the joint force. You know, we've had an unmanned task force in the Navy for the last two years. If confirmed, I want to continue that work or evolve it into a Disruptive Capabilities Office that looks beyond just unmanned, but at other capabilities that we can leverage from the Defense Innovation Base to get after some of these challenges that we have.

Senator Fischer: Do you think establishing that office is going to help the Navy be able to reach a balance in the unmanned and the manned programs?

Admiral Franchetti: I think through our analysis and wargaming, we're going to understand what that balance looks like. And I think this office will speed to the fleet the things that it sees. It needs to fill gaps right now, leveraging work in the replicator program, and using funds that have already been allocated for this. I think we're going to be able to get after that. We're demonstrating it now in Task Force 59, in the Middle East with many of our allies and partners there. And we've also scaled that to Fourth Fleet, using them to do maritime domain awareness and other missions that will be really important going forward.

Senator Fischer: For the first time in history, the United States will face two adversaries who are peer nuclear powers. And this fundamentally changes nuclear deterrence dynamics, particularly with respect to the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons. So, if Russia or China believe that they can gain advantage over the United States and our allies from the threat of limited nuclear strikes because they perceive the President is lacking a viable response option, then deterrence could fail. And that plays right into the escalate to de-escalate strategy that they have. We've heard from a number of leaders within the military -- General Milley, Admiral Grady, the STRATCOM commanders and also former Democrat and Republican officials -- about that capability gap. And that's why this committee and the House Committee, in the NDAA's that we have passed here in Congress, both have the Sea Launch Cruise Missile as a program of record in the NDAAs, and we expect the President's signature to make that law. Do you agree with that assessment, that this president or any president deserves to have multiple options to deal with national security situations?

Admiral Franchetti: Yeah, I agree with the view of other senior leaders that this is a tailored option that the president should have — a Submarine Launched Cruise Missile. 

Senator Fischer: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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