White House objects to three-subs-a-year plan

The hull of the Virginia-class attack submarine South Dakota (SSN 790) is seen under construction at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton on Nov. 17, 2016. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget on Friday objected to a provision in a massive defense bill approved Thursday by the House that would press the Navy to procure two additional Virginia-class subs in 2022 and 2023. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
The hull of the Virginia-class attack submarine South Dakota (SSN 790) is seen under construction at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton on Nov. 17, 2016. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget on Friday objected to a provision in a massive defense bill approved Thursday by the House that would press the Navy to procure two additional Virginia-class subs in 2022 and 2023. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Washington — The White House’s Office of Management and Budget has objected to a provision in a massive defense bill approved by the House that would press the Navy to procure two additional Virginia-class subs in 2022 and 2023.

The $717 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) approved Thursday by the U.S. House, 351-66, includes $1 billion more than President Donald Trump requested in advanced procurement funding for the Virginia-class program, but only if the Navy commits to increasing production to three of those attack subs in those years, up from the two-sub-a-year pace Electric Boat has been maintaining for years.

That would require the next Navy to agree to purchase 12 subs in its next contract with Electric Boat, which is under negotiation, while the president’s budget only called for 10.

OMB said it objects to language in the NDAA, promoted by Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, that “prohibits the Navy from fully exercising the FY 2019 Virginia-class submarine five-year multi-year procurement authority until the Navy certifies it will procure two more (subs) than are currently in the budget.”

It said the bill’s push for an increase in Virginia-class production is one of several “specific provisions which may inadvertently restrict the ability to invest in our fleet in a responsible and sustainable manner.”

The White House also objected to the defense bill’s plan to increase the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 12 and said “the administration looks forward to working with Congress to determine the most cost-effective and fiscally responsible path forward to deliver the Navy the nation needs.”

Courtney said the OMB criticisms run counter to the Navy’s needs.

“The Navy has testified again and again that they need more submarines and have the capacity to build more submarines, and yet the budget submitted through OMB does not account for additional submarines,” Courtney said.

He said “the intent of our provision is to continue to hold the Navy and the administration accountable to build the additional submarines that their own Force Structure Assessment has been calling for since 2016.”

The White House can’t stop Congress from approving language to pressure the Navy to increase submarine production, unless the president vetoes the bill, which is unlikely.

“While OMB has made clear their concerns, Congress will ultimately have the final say on how we fund and structure submarine construction moving forward,” Courtney said.

The OMB’s criticisms, however, may influence lawmakers when they negotiate a final defense authorization bill.

The Senate began work on its defense authorization bill this week.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill would authorize only $250 million for advanced Virginia-class procurement and would give the Navy flexibility to use that money for a third attack sub or to expand the industrial base.

The bill that cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday also approved funding for 75 F-35 jet fighters, two less than the House authorized in its defense bill and that the president had requested. Trimming the number of Joint Strike Fighters, whose engines are made by Pratt & Whitney, was needed “to realign the program towards sustainment,” a summary of the bill said.

Still, like the House bill, the Senate NDAA substantially would boost defense programs in Connecticut and send billions of Pentagon dollars to the state.

‘Unprecedented resources’

“The bill invests unprecedented resources in submarines, helicopters, aircraft and more, because they are vital to our national security, and because our state makes them so well,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Besides authorizing $7.4 billion for Virginia-class submarine program, the Senate bill also would invest nearly $3.8 billion for the Columbia-class program to replace the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, which, like the Virginia-class subs, also will be built by Electric Boat.

The Senate bill also approves funding for eight Sikorsky-made King Stallion CH53K heavy-lift helicopters, 10 combat rescue helicopters and six VH92A presidential helicopters.

The Senate bill also approves funding for 50 Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters, which matches Trump’s request. The House bill sought to increase the number of Black Hawks the Pentagon would purchase next year.

The Senate bill is expected to go to the full Senate for a vote shortly after Congress’ Memorial Day break. Then the House and Senate bills will be reconciled into a final bill.

Ana Radelat is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (www.ctmirror.org). Copyright 2018 © The Connecticut Mirror.

aradelat@ctmirror.org

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