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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    U.S. House committee approves defense bill calling for second Virginia-class sub

    The Virginia-class submarine USS Virginia (SSN-774) ON Wednesday, May 8, 2024, at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and all but one other member of the House Armed Services Committee voted late Wednesday night to advance the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act, another step in the Courtney-led effort to secure funding for a second Virginia-class submarine in the $850 billion defense budget.

    The bill, which moves to the House floor and then the Senate, passed, 57-1, with Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, casting the lone dissenting vote.

    Courtney, who hosted a virtual news conference Thursday, said the bill reverses the Navy’s request to cut $1 billion in incremental funding for a Virginia-class submarine, keeps the AUKUS trilateral partnership among Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States on track, and provides quality-of-life improvements, including substantial pay hikes, for service members and their families.

    “This overwhelming commitment to maintain a steady procurement rate comes at a critical time when attack submarines are in high demand across the globe and as we prepare to sell three submarines to Australia beginning in 2032,” Courtney said. “Authorizing the second Virginia class boat sends a strong demand signal to suppliers across the state that business will remain strong, giving them the assurances and stability needed to continue growing their businesses to meet demand.”

    During the news conference, Courtney noted a provision of the AUKUS agreement approved in March 2022 calls for the United States to sell three Virginia-class submarines to Australia, with the first two sales to occur in 2032 and 2035. The submarines are built in a partnership between Electric Boat in Groton and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.

    The first two submarines sent to Australia will already have been commissioned ― essentially “pre-owned,” Courtney said. They will have to be decommissioned, then sold to Australia and then recommissioned. The third submarine in the deal, scheduled to be sent to Australia in 2038, will be a “brand new boat,” he said.

    Cutting a submarine from the 2025 NDAA would have meant a U.S. inventory of one fewer submarine in 2032, perhaps complicating the sales to Australia, Courtney said. The sales are contingent on the president at the time certifying that the transfer of submarines will not have a negative impact on the U.S. fleet.

    “We’re still working on that language,” he said of the certification.

    Restoring the two-subs-a-year production cadence also is essential to EB’s ability to maintain procurement schedules with suppliers and the size of its shipyard workforce, which now numbers more than 23,000 employees, Courtney said.

    He said the defense bill’s “generational investments” in service members and their families will be welcomed by the thousands of submariners and their families in eastern Connecticut.

    “This includes a 19.5% pay increase for junior enlisted officers; increased funding to upgrade living conditions at barracks; better access to quality health care and affordable childcare; and expanded employment opportunities for military spouses,” Courtney said. “These improvements are sorely needed, especially at a time when nearly every service experiences recruitment challenges.”

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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