Courtney: EB could see return to Cold War-era production levels
Electric Boat’s Groton shipyard could ramp up submarine production to a level not seen since the Cold War to meet the terms of AUKUS, the United States’ trilateral agreement with the United Kingdom and Australia, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said Tuesday.
Those terms, it was announced Monday, include supplying Australia with nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines, beginning in the early 2030s.
Speaking in a Zoom meeting with reporters, Courtney said that despite the increase in demand, it wouldn’t make sense to equip another U.S. shipyard to build Virginia-class submarines now being turned out by EB and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, the only yards with the necessary nuclear certification.
“If you look back to the 1970s and ’80s, EB’s workforce used to be 25,000 to 28,000 during the height of the Cold War. We have not maxed out,” said Courtney, who noted EB’s current workforce in Groton and at its Quonset Point facility in Rhode Island numbers about 19,500.
“And that’s not just a hometown cheerleader saying that,” he added. “Look at the history.”
Courtney said EB built fast-attack and ballistic-missile submarines simultaneously during the Cold War at a higher rate than the current two Virginia-class and one Columbia-class subs it’s annually working on now.
EB’s prospects for considerable AUKUS-related work got a huge boost Monday with President Joe Biden’s announcement that Australia will buy from three to five Virginia-class submarines from the U.S. as the trilateral partnership seeks to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Courtney traveled to San Diego for the announcement, which also was attended by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, neither of whom was in office when the AUKUS agreement was signed 18 months ago.
Courtney said non-nuclear submarine work can be spread out among shipyards in other parts of the country to facilitate a ramp-up in production. He said, for example, he had recently visited a shipyard in Alabama that’s performing major tasks, including steel-fabrication work.
When Australia takes delivery of the first of the submarines it intends to purchase from the U.S., it may take an “in-service submarine, one that’s already built, been commissioned and gone through a shakedown,” Courtney said. “These (Virginia-class) boats have 33 years of service life.”
He noted that when Biden spoke at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, the USS Missouri (SSN 780), a Virginia-class submarine built at Electric Boat and commissioned in 2010, could be seen in the background tied up at a pier.
“It’ll be a ‘newish,’ pre-owned submarine” that Australia first receives, he said, adding Australia is committed to eventually building its own submarines.
On Monday, Courtney also reacted to Biden’s release of his fiscal 2024 budget request for the Department of Defense, which includes $332 million for two new critical construction projects at Submarine Base New London ― $113 million for the extension of Pier 31, and $219 million for a new Weapons Magazine & Ordnance Operations Facility.
“This eye-popping request for new investment at the base is clear recognition of the enduring role and unquestioned value of Submarine Base New London,” Courtney said in a statement. “These two new projects will ensure that the base has the tools and infrastructure to support the newest and most capable submarines now and well into the future.”
Highlights of the president’s budget request included:
- $10.6 billion for Virginia-class submarines, including two to be built in 2024 and materials to be included in two to be built in 2025 and two to be built in 2026.
- $5.9 billion for Columbia-class submarines, supporting the first two increments for the second boat in the class and advance procurement for materials to be used in future boats. Advance procurement will also continue to fund missile tube production and advanced construction and procurement of major hull components.
- $647 million to strengthen and expand the submarine industrial base to support stabilizing and expanding US submarine construction as well as preparing for AUKUS, investing in areas like workforce development, supplier support, and shipyard infrastructure.
- $1.1 billion for submarine research and development, including expanding capabilities on Block VI Virginia-class submarines and development of the SSN(x), the future replacement of the Virginia class.
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