Steady as she goes

Both the Senate and House versions of the $631 billion National Defense Authorization Act contain $778 million in advance procurement funding that will allow the Navy to move forward with the purchase of two Virginia-class submarines in 2014.

The Obama administration had called for moving back to 2015 plans to construct two of the submarines per year and instead continue for another year the practice of building a single attack submarine annually. The motivation was understandable - pushing back some defense spending - but the strategy was flawed.

The Navy sees construction of two Virginia-class attack submarines over the next several years as necessary to maintain a submarine fleet sufficient to meet national security needs. The proposal to delay those plans fails on two counts - national security and fiscal policy.

Yes, it would cost less to build one submarine than two, but it would also detract from the efficiency savings that result from a steady production schedule. The administration's budget proposal calls for as many submarines overall, but with one constructed in 2014 and two, instead of one, in 2018. That blip in 2014 would have disrupted construction supply schedules, caused temporary layoffs and a subsequent need for rehiring and, in the Navy's own estimation, added $600 million to production costs over the long run.

Working jointly, Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia have established a strong record by delivering submarines on time and within budgets established in conjunction with the Pentagon. It would have been a mistake to introduce disorder to the Virginia-class construction schedule to cut one submarine from the 2014 budget. Better to target over-budget, and behind-schedule weapon's programs to cut.

Senators and congressmen from Connecticut and Virginia have formed a formidable bipartisan team to fight for submarine construction and the jobs they create and maintain in the two states. That could prove an important asset as pressure to cut defense spending grows. Those cuts could be recklessly steep if Congress and the president fail to reach a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. Doing what it can to avoid that outcome should be the next priority for Connecticut's congressional delegation.

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