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Lawmakers say defense secretary needs to explain submarine cut in Trump budget

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and Republican Rob Wittman, who represents Virginia's 1st Congressional District, are asking Defense Secretary Mark Esper for documents to support the Trump administration's decision to cut an attack submarine in its latest budget request.

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also questioned the decision in a letter to the defense secretary this week.

At the start of the week, President Donald Trump unveiled a $4.8 trillion budget proposal that would increase defense spending overall but proposes cutting Virginia-class attack submarine production in half — from two submarines to one. These submarines are built by Electric Boat in Groton and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. The Trump administration is planning to build six new Navy war ships, compared to the 10 previously planned and the 12 approved by Congress.

The lawmakers said in both letters that the proposal contradicts the Navy's goal of reaching 355 ships, including 66 fast-attack submarines, by 2048 — the Trump administration's own National Defense Strategy, which says the U.S. is again in a great power competition with Russia and China, which have continued advancements in their undersea fleets.

The U.S. Navy currently has 294 ships.

The House letter, sent Wednesday, said "it is challenging to put this request in a strategic or analytical context without two key plans."

Courtney and Wittman, the chairman and ranking member of the House subcommittee with oversight of Navy shipbuilding, are referring to the Navy's 30-year shipbuilding plan and force structure assessment, which determines what the Navy's future fleet should look like.

Federal law requires that the shipbuilding plan be submitted with the president's annual budget request, which the lawmakers said did not happen this year. They requested the plan be submitted no later than Feb. 27.

The subcommittee was set to receive a briefing this week on the Navy's force structure assessment. That briefing "meant to provide larger strategic and analytical context needed to review the new budget request," was canceled indefinitely, Courtney and Wittman said.

They requested an update in writing on when Congress can expect to receive it.

Blumenthal and Murphy said in their letter to Esper that they request "immediate justification for this shortsighted proposal" and would work with their Senate colleagues to restore the Virginia submarine. They cited comments Esper made during a visit to EB's Groton shipyard in August 2019, emphasizing the importance of continued investment in the submarine fleet.

The submarine that the Trump administration is proposing to cut is one that would be delivered by Newport News Shipbuilding.

The administration, in its budget proposal, shifted about $1.6 billion in funding from the Virginia class program to the National Nuclear Security Administration. The proposal "is an insult to the hardworking and talented submarine workforce in Connecticut and across the country," the senators said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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