Submarines rate high in Obama budget

President Barack Obama released a defense budget Monday that supports building two submarines a year and investing in a new ballistic-missile submarine, even while slashing the funding for other weapons programs.

Local submarine supporters have worked for years to increase the submarine production rate from one to two per year.

"This is a budget that a lot of people have been watching closely," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said Monday. "… Our questions have been answered, and in a positive way."

The Virginia-class submarine program will receive $5.4 billion, if the budget passes, for two submarines in fiscal 2011, for the advanced procurement of submarine components for two submarines in 2012 and in 2013, and for research and development.

Virginia-class submarines provide the Navy "with the capabilities to maintain undersea supremacy in the 21st century," the budget stated.

The Navy's budget documents, also released Monday, say that it will continue to buy two attack submarines per year through fiscal 2015.

About $700 million is included to continue developing a new ballistic-missile submarine to replace the current fleet of Ohio-class, or Trident, submarines. Last year's budget provided $495 million for the program.

Electric Boat is hiring designers and engineers to work on the ballistic-missile submarine design. EB and Northrop Grumman Newport News in Virginia currently build one submarine a year under a teaming agreement.

"In an era when the Department of Defense has to make a lot of tough choices, it's encouraging to see that at the highest levels there is such a strong recognition of the importance of submarines to national security," EB President John P. Casey said in a statement.

The proposed defense budget, $708 billion for fiscal 2011, includes $549 billion to fund basic defense programs, an increase of $18 billion over last year, and $159 billion to support overseas operations, primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Other weapons programs did not get the president's support. The Defense Department proposed concluding production of the C-17 airlift aircraft, delaying the command ship replacement program and canceling the CG(X) cruiser.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a statement that he was making "substantial changes to allocate defense dollars more wisely."

"It's definitely gratifying that in a year when every program is being microscopically examined, we still pass with flying colors," Courtney said.

The administration also issued on Monday its Quadrennial Defense Review report, the latest Pentagon reassessment of the military that shapes policies and programs. It states that there will be between 53 and 55 attack submarines and four guided-missile submarines from 2011 to 2015.

The Navy has said in the past that it only needed 48 submarines. Currently there are 53 attack submarines and four guided-missile submarines.

The Department of Defense has four priority objectives, according to the report - to prevail in today's wars, to prevent and deter conflict, to prepare to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies, and to preserve and enhance the all-volunteer force.

The report, along with the budget, should bring "long-term stability for the workforce at Electric Boat," Courtney said. The Navy will need two submarines a year from EB and Newport News "well into the 2020s," he added.

Electric Boat notified 434 employees last week that they will be laid off in April. Casey announced the layoffs last month, attributing them largely to the fact that the Navy is only buying one submarine a year and the company does not have enough submarine maintenance and modernization work to keep the employees busy.

Some of the trades personnel the company plans to lay off could possibly be trained to fill some of the design jobs that will be available for the Ohio-class program.

Courtney said he contacted the Navy to see if any of the repair work that is being sent to the Navy shipyards could be diverted to EB, or if any of the affected employees could work at those shipyards temporarily.

"The one-submarine production rate that has hindered the ability of EB to maintain a stable workforce is going to be a thing of the past, with the QDR report today and the financial commitment the administration is making," Courtney said.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said submarines "play a vital role in our country's national defense and the administration's commitment to the workers of Connecticut is a testament to the confidence we have in their abilities."

"I hope that these investments as well as the continuing development of the first nuclear missile submarine in decades will help avert layoffs of Electric Boat's hard-working men and women in our state," Dodd said in a statement.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said he was "proud that Connecticut workers do so much to keep our nation safe."

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