Submarine funding passes key hurdle

The effort to restore a second Virginia-class submarine in the plans for 2014 cleared a major hurdle Wednesday when a congressional subcommittee included funding for it in a defense spending bill, U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney and James Langevin announced.

In its version of the bill that authorizes appropriations for fiscal 2013, the subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee included $778 million to purchase parts with long lead times for the second submarine.

The president's proposed budget calls for building one Virginia-class submarine in 2014 instead of two and two submarines in 2018 instead of one to save money now.

The subcommittee still wants the Navy to order two submarines in 2018 — the bill would give the Navy the contracting authority for a five-year block of up to 10 new submarines instead of capping the total at 9.

The Navy would also be able to pay for the parts and services for the submarines over a set number of years instead of having to fully fund the ships upfront. The incremental funding approach has been used with aircraft carriers but not submarines.

Courtney, D-2nd District, and Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said the funding for the second submarine still has a long way to go in the budget process. Their colleagues in the House could cut it or the Senate could not support it.

But they were both optimistic since this subcommittee is where the successful effort to build two submarines a year instead of one began in 2007.

"Tomorrow begins another journey to make sure the strategic needs of the country, in terms of having a strong undersea fleet, are met," Courtney said Wednesday in a conference call.

The subcommittee votes on Thursday and the bill will head to the full committee. Courtney expects the House to vote in late May.

Langevin said Navy officials have said if the advanced procurement funding is restored and incremental funding is allowed, they can pay for the second submarine in 2014 and increase the order from nine to 10. He said this is an important issue for national security and for jobs in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

The work on the second submarine in 2014 represents about 2 million man hours annually for five years at Electric Boat's facilities in Groton and Quonset Point in Rhode Island and at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia — enough work to keep 800 to 1,000 people busy.

Delaying the purchase of the submarine would force layoffs and add an estimated $600 million to the cost of the program since labor and parts will cost more four years later and disrupting the schedule creates inefficiencies, which lead to higher costs, according to EB. Company spokesman Robert Hamilton said Wednesday that it's too soon to comment on the budget.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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