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Electric Boat a beneficiary of defense bill priorities

The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass in a vote today, includes several components that have a direct impact on eastern Connecticut. The Senate is expected to take up the bill next week.

Speaking by phone from Washington, D.C., on Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said that during the election recess the committee staffs from the House and Senate met regularly to have an informal conference on the bill.

"This year's NDAA is another strong show of support for eastern Connecticut's submarine industrial base and our top-notch workforce," Courtney said. "Full funding for the two-a-year build rate, the Virginia Payload Module, and a significant investment in research and design for the Ohio Replacement Program are a victory in this difficult fiscal climate, and a testament to the men and women of Electric Boat."

Courtney gave The Day a rundown of the eastern Connecticut-specific components of the bill.

Virginia Payload Module program

The defense bill allots $133 million for the Virginia Payload Module program, which expands missile capacity on the Virginia-class submarines. The $133 million will come from Navy Research and Development funding since the integration into future submarines won't happen for a few more years.

Courtney said there's a small class of submarines that have additional Tomahawk cruise missile capacity, but those submarines are coming offline. The payload program modifies the Virginia-class submarines, Courtney said, "so they can have more missile tubs for the Tomahawks."

"Electric Boat does this work in terms of all the engineering going into it, and the development," he said.

USS North Dakota, the first of the Block III of Virginia-class submarines, which was commissioned in Groton in October, is the first submarine to have two larger payload tubes instead of 12 individual, vertical-launch missile tubes.

The submarine is able to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines

In April, the Navy awarded the largest single shipbuilding contract in its history to Electric Boat for the construction of 10 Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines.

The total 10-ship Block IV contract is for $18 billion over five years, which will be paid for in increments in each year's defense bill.

The 2015 defense bill, in its current state, provides $3.6 billion in funding for two of the submarines in 2015, and $2.3 billion in funding for the advanced procurement of long-lead parts for boats that will be built in 2016.

Under the bill, the $5.9 billion in funding will be allocated through the Navy's regular shipbuilding budget.

Ohio-class replacement program

The defense bill allots $1.3 billion for the Ohio-class replacement program, which replaces the Ohio-class boats with ballistic-missile submarines, the newest class of submarines.

The funds will come primarily through Navy Research and Development, but some funding will also come from the U.S. Department of Energy and military construction account.

Electric Boat will perform research and development work for this new class of submarine, which is scheduled for a 2021 construction start.

The bill also includes the creation of a separate national sea-based deterrence fund to pay for the Ohio-class program, something lawmakers including Courtney have talked about for a few years. Courtney said the defense bill makes the fund "a matter of law ... and sets up the authority for it to be funded starting next year."

The defence bill gives the U.S. Department of Defense the authority to move up to $3.5 billion from unused 2014, 2015 and 2016 funding to start the sea-based deterrence fund.

If the program were paid for out of the Navy's shipbuilding account, Courtney said, "it would suffocate" funding for other programs like surface ships and the Virginia-class submarines.

Overall, the Ohio-class replacement program is a $95 billion endeavor.

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: JuliaSBergman

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