U.S. House pushes forward with plans to build three attack submarines some years

Two hull sections of the Virginia-class attack submarine USS South Dakota (SSN 790) are seen May 11, 2016, on the waterfront at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton.  The U.S. House is moving forward with plans to build three attack submarines, as opposed to two, in the years 2022 and 2023 by including an extra $1 billion in its version of next year's defense policy bill to buy materials that would be needed in advance to build those submarines. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Two hull sections of the Virginia-class attack submarine USS South Dakota (SSN 790) are seen May 11, 2016, on the waterfront at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton. The U.S. House is moving forward with plans to build three attack submarines, as opposed to two, in the years 2022 and 2023 by including an extra $1 billion in its version of next year's defense policy bill to buy materials that would be needed in advance to build those submarines. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

The U.S. House is moving forward with plans to build three attack submarines, as opposed to two, in the years 2022 and 2023 by including an extra $1 billion in its version of next year's defense policy bill to buy materials that would be needed in advance to build those submarines.

The House on Thursday overwhelming passed a $717 billion defense authorization bill, which sets defense priorities for the 2019 fiscal year, by a vote of 351-66. It includes $1 billion more than President Donald Trump requested in advanced procurement funding to buy materials, such as nuclear reactor components, for the additional submarines.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, which has been pushing for the additional submarines, says the $1 billion number came from talks with the shipbuilders, Electric Boat and Newport News, and the Navy about what federal lawmakers could do to help facilitate building three submarines in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

"The timing of this is really important in terms of whether the Navy is going to be able to implement its shipbuilding plan, released back in 2016, that identified a goal of 66 (attack) submarines," Courtney said. "Two (attack submarines) per year is not going to get you there until the 2040s."

Courtney and his colleagues had to make cuts to other programs to find the $1 billion. The majority of the money came from delaying a request for a new amphibious transport dock ship for the Navy, he said.

The Navy is negotiating the contract for the next group of attack submarines it wants built from 2019 to 2023. Navy officials have indicated there is additional capacity in the years 2022 and 2023 to build more submarines. Recent contracts have authorized the building of 10 attack submarines, or two per year. And Trump's fiscal year 2019 budget request includes plans to build 10 submarines in the next contract.

Courtney said the push to build more submarines faster is to help the Navy meet its strategic goal of 66 attack submarines sooner, and to respond to demands from military commanders for more submarines, given submarine advancements made by other countries and other national security threats.

"Our chief adversaries in the world are developing much more sophisticated and technologically advanced submarines, including China and Russia," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Blumenthal is a member, on Thursday afternoon unveiled its version of the defense policy bill. The legislation next goes to the full Senate for consideration and eventually the Senate's version and the House's version will be merged into one bill.

The $716 billion bill that passed out of the Senate committee by a vote of 25 to 2 includes $250 million that could be used to help prepare to build three submarines in 2022 and 2023. Blumenthal said he would be fighting for additional funding, and said that he was confident that his colleagues in the Senate would support building more submarines in those years.

j.bergman@theday.com

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