House lawmakers denounce Pentagon’s planned drop in submarine orders

House lawmakers denounce Pentagon’s planned drop in submarine orders

House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are pushing back against the Pentagon’s proposal to fund the procurement of just one Virginia-class attack submarine in fiscal 2025 instead of two.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., Rob Wittman, R-Va., and 118 other lawmakers made the case in a May 1 letter to the chamber’s top defense appropriators as Congress drafts its FY25 defense budget.

“Preserving a consistent production schedule is essential for shipyard and industrial base stability, and to meet the Navy’s operational requirements,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Defense Appropriations Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., the panel’s top Democrat.

“This is exactly why Congress has strongly supported and defended the consistent two-per-year build rate of Virginia-class attack submarines since 2011.”

The Navy has said it needs to procure two Virginia-class attack vessels and one Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine per year to meet its requirements. The AUKUS agreement, in which the U.S. will transfer at least three and as many as five attack submarines to Australia in the next decade, would require a production boost of 2.3 to 2.5 Virginia-class vessels per year, on average.

However, industry has not been able to keep pace with production requirements, producing at an average rate of roughly 1.2 Virginia vessels annually. The Navy has said the production constraints have prompted it to request one vessel amid a defense budget topline capped at $895 billion under the terms of last year’s debt ceiling deal.

“The proposal to request one attack submarine is contrary to the Department of Defense’s National Defense Industrial Strategy, which cites procurement instability as a systemic challenge,” Courtney and his colleagues wrote.

“Sustainable production of the Virginia-class program, and the development of a follow-on attack submarine program, is key to maintaining our undersea advantage in the years ahead. To that end, we respectfully request that you fully restore procurement for two Virginia-class submarines in FY 2025.”

Courtney’s Connecticut district includes General Dynamics Electric Boat, which makes the vessels. He told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a Tuesday hearing that procuring only one submarine instead of the usual two disrupts suppliers lower down the supply chain.

“I talked to supply chain companies who are hitting the pause button on claimed investments,” Courtney said Tuesday. “This has a real ripple effect when that signal shows instability.”

Courtney made the case that despite the COVID-era supply chain shocks and labor shortages, production tempo and capacity is increasing in both his district and at Virginia’s Newport News shipyard.

He noted on Monday that Electric Boat hired 5,300 new workers last year to retain 88% of its workforce and is on track to hire an additional 5,200 workers in 2024. Newport News also hired 8,300 more workers in 2022 and 2023, he added.

“While the FY25 budget request includes substantial investments in the nationwide submarine industrial baes, there is no alternative to stabilize the supply chain other than consistent procurement of two Virginia-class submarines in FY25,” the lawmakers’ letter states.

The foreign aid package Congress passed in April included $3.3 billion in submarine industrial base funding to shore up production of Virginia and Columbia class vessels. Wednesday’s missive notes that this includes “the first increment of funding to begin construction on the second boat” in the Columbia class program to replace the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.

“The program remains on a razor thin schedule with little margin for absorbing delays resulting from technical challenges or funding-related issues,” the lawmakers wrote.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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