Senate bill would authorize tens of billions for Connecticut's defense sector

A bill that would authorize tens of billions of dollars for Connecticut's defense sector passed out of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday by a vote of 25 to 2.

The bill, which was unveiled Thursday and would authorize $750 billion to be spent on the Pentagon, in line with what the Trump administration has requested, next will go to the full Senate for consideration.

"The bill makes major, unprecedented investments in the submarines, helicopters, and aircraft built in Connecticut — keeping our country safe and our state's economy strong," U.S. Sen Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the committee, said in a statement.

The measure would authorize about $11 billion in funding for submarine programs, including $1.5 billion to support construction of a third attack submarine per year. The current procurement rate for attack submarines is two per year. This follows approval by the House Appropriations Committee last week of a $690.2 billion spending plan for the Department of Defense that includes money to support a buildup in attack submarine production.

The Senate committee proposal also includes $653 million for maintenance on the attack submarines USS Hartford, which is based in Groton, USS Boise and the USS Columbus. The three submarines were included on the Navy's unfunded priorities list, essentially an annual wish list of projects not funded in the president's budget proposal, but which the service believes are needed to carry out its mission.

A backlog in the Navy's public shipyards has delayed maintenance on submarines, with the Boise frequently cited as a worst-case scenario of a submarine being sidelined while awaiting overhaul. Blumenthal, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, have called on the Navy to direct more of this kind of submarine maintenance work toward private companies like Electric Boat.

The Boise sat pierside, unused, for more than a year awaiting an opening in one of the public yards before the Navy sought private bids for the job. Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia was awarded the contract in 2017, but delays with other submarines in private-yard maintenance bumped it to the unfunded priorities list.

Other funding under the Senate committee bill pertinent to Connecticut includes:

  • $72.3 million for a replacement pier at the Naval Submarine Base to accommodate multiple Virginia-class attack submarines
  • more than $10 billion for 94 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters; the engines are manufactured by Pratt & Whitney, based in East Hartford
  • $807.9 million for 6 CH-53Ks built by Sikorsky, based in Stratford
  • Nearly $1.3 billion for 66 UH-60M Black Hawks, also built by Sikorsky
  • $52 million to support the modernization of the Air Force's C-130H fleet; the Connecticut Air National Guard 103rd Airlift wing operates the C-130H
  • more than $57 million to enhance collaboration between the Navy, the University of Connecticut and Electric Boat on undersea projects.

j.bergman@theday.com

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