Trump's budget plan calls for one fewer attack submarine

Congressman Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said Monday that a provision in President Donald Trump's $4.8 trillion budget proposal to cut an attack submarine from the Navy's shipbuilding account is "dead on arrival."

On Monday, Trump unveiled his budget plan for fiscal year 2021, which overall increases defense spending but cuts the Navy's shipbuilding budget by $4.1 billion compared to last year and includes fewer ships than what the Navy had asked for in its 30-year shipbuilding plan released last year. Trump's budget plan is considered a starting point for debate in Congress on the budget.

The proposal to cut a Virginia-class attack submarine, Courtney said, is at odds with the Trump administration's own National Defense Strategy, which says the U.S. is again in a great power competition with Russia and China, and statements last week from a three-star Navy admiral, who described an increase in Russian submarine activity in the Atlantic Ocean. It will also not get the Navy any closer to its goal of 355 ships, Courtney said.

"This is just weak," Courtney said by phone Monday afternoon after Trump's budget plan was unveiled. "We're giving up capacity in the platform that has the biggest shortfall of them all."

The Navy's attack submarine fleet is expected to shrink in the late 2020s due to older versions of the attack submarines being retired at a faster rate than newer ones are being built, and because the attack submarine program essentially came to a halt following the Cold War.

The Navy, and the Trump administration, have backed a bigger Navy, outlining a goal of 355 ships. The service currently has 294 ships.

As chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee, Courtney, whose district includes submarine builder Electric Boat, said he receives regular briefings from military officials, many of them classified, "that confirm the high value right now of submarines in the fleet."

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., were also quick to denounce Trump's proposal to cut a Virginia-class submarine in fiscal year 2021.

Blumenthal said by phone Monday afternoon that the proposal is "a dangerous departure from our long-established bipartisan commitment to undersea superiority."

"This draconian cut makes absolutely no sense when our adversaries are aggressively expanding their undersea capabilities," he said.

Murphy, in a statement, called the decision short-sighted and cited the comments made by Vice Adm. Andrew "Woody" Lewis last week about the Atlantic Ocean once again being a "contested battlespace" due to Russian activity there.

"Now is not the time to be shrinking our responsibility to the men and women of the U.S. Navy," Murphy said.

Courtney said that "by all accounts" the Trump administration had included two attack submarines in its budget, the status quo since 2011, until about two to three weeks ago when there was a push from the U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories for more money for nuclear warhead modernization.

The submarine that the Trump administration is proposing to cut is one that would be delivered by Newport News Shipbuilding. Electric Boat in Groton and Newport News in Virginia build Virginia-class attack submarines together under a teaming arrangement with the shipyards alternating which of them delivers the submarine to the Navy.

Still, Courtney said, EB does a third of the work on the submarines delivered by Newport News. Any impact on employment or the shipyards would not be realized until 2023, he said.


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