With military threats growing, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee peppered Richard V. Spencer, the nominee for U.S. secretary of the Navy, with questions about what they described as a poor state of military readiness and the slow and costly process of replacing aging ships and jets.

At a Tuesday hearing, senators asked about North Korea’s recent successful ballistic missile testing — which increased speculation about whether Hawaii is now within its range — as well as rapid military expansion by China and antagonistic Russian initiatives in the Arctic.

“How do we get on a war footing?” asked Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats. “We were making destroyers one every two weeks, and planes every 15 to 20 minutes, during World War II. How do we get a sense of urgency in this process?”

NominationMr. Richard V. Spencer to be Secretary of the NavyTuesday July 11 2017 9:30am

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, left, and New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen speak before the hearing starts

U.S. Senate Photographic Studio

During the two-hour confirmation hearing, both Republicans and Democrats raised concerns about the Navy’s effectiveness and its ability to quickly expand the U.S. fleet. Still, Spencer, a finance executive and former Marine, seems headed for confirmation.

The secretary of the Navy supervises the Navy and Marine Corps. Hawaii is home to the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which includes about 200 ships, including five aircraft carrier strike groups, nearly 1,100 aircraft, and more than 110,000 sailors and civilian employees. It also serves as headquarters for the U.S. Marine Corps Pacific, which includes two Marine expeditionary forces, 640 aircraft and personnel totaling about 86,000.

Spencer said that he would, if confirmed, work to overhaul the military procurement process and seek more funding for ships, improved training and equipment and increases in sailors and trained shipyard workers. He said he would also consider trying to renovate old ships and would look for ways to do things cheaper and faster.

“I will look under every rock for efficiencies,” he said. “And there are some big boulders we might need to remove.”

The U.S. fleet today numbers about 276 ships, but both the Trump and Obama administrations have said it should grow to 355 vessels. A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office said that even if the money to build them were approved, the ships would not all be ready until 2035.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said the U.S. is losing the war in Afghanistan, and that American soldiers there and elsewhere are not fully equipped, not fully trained and are exhausted after frequent redeployments.

Hirono met with Richard V. Spencer, the Navy secretary nominee, June 15

Staff of Mazie Hirono

McCain said that the U.S. has two nuclear submarines that have been sitting at a pier for more than a year because there are no spare parts to fix them. He said 60 percent of all F-15 fighter jets are grounded for mechanical problems that have gone unrepaired.

“There’s a $2 billion cost overrun on one aircraft carrier and no one is being held responsible,” McCain said.

Spencer said part of the problem is that major military procurements require 32 layers of approval. He would like to reduce the number of decision-makers and hold them individually accountable for delays and cost overruns.

He said naval officers overseeing acquisitions might be required to stay with a new ship through its entire development process, instead of being assigned for brief periods of time and moving to the next posting, what he called the “up-and-out” problem. He said that short tenures in procurement jobs have reduced accountability.

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat who serves on the Armed Services committee and also on the Seapower and Projections Forces subcommittee, attended the hearing but did not ask questions. She met with Spencer on June 15, and indicated she intends to ask more questions privately in coming weeks.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, said he wanted Spencer to press Navy officials to be more truthful. He said that Adm. William K. Lescher had given the Senate Armed Services committee “inaccurate” information at a recent hearing, when he said a Bloomberg News story about the Trump administration’s budget proposal was untrue — it later proved to be accurate.

“We depend on getting accurate answers and we hope that is a policy you will support, that they won’t try to hide the ball or play semantic games with us,” Kaine said.

Spencer said honest answers would be “the tone set at the top.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, asked if it worried Spencer that intelligence reports indicate that China intends to expand to a 350-ship fleet by 2020.

“It all concerns me tremendously,” Spencer said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, said more money needs to be spent to rebuild the U.S. military because North Korea poses a direct risk.

“We’ve got a mentally deficient person running a country who is totally unpredictable,” Inhofe said of Kim Jong-un.

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