Wittman sure US Navy will buy two attack subs in 2025 — like it or not

Wittman sure US Navy will buy two attack subs in 2025 — like it or not

A powerful member of the House Armed Services Committee has said in no uncertain terms that Congress would force the Navy to buy two Virginia-class attack submarines in fiscal 2025, regardless of the service’s reasons for deviating from its plan and requesting one instead.

“The bottom line: The Navy’s just wrong on this. The Navy is 100% wrong,” Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told reporters May 15 regarding the FY25 National Defense Authorization Act language released this week in which the committee added money to incrementally fund the purchase of a second attack sub.

The Navy had planned to continue a cadence of buying two submarines per year, but it walked back those plans in its latest budget request, released earlier in the year. Now the service is seeking a single submarine in FY25, citing a lack of industrial base capacity to deliver two on time.

A few hours before Wittman’s media engagement, Bill LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel that the Pentagon stands by the Navy’s decision to request one submarine, supplement it with $3.9 billion to shore up the industrial base, and seek $2.4 billion in advance procurement funds.

“The department had the difficult choice of either adding to the backlog that was there, or take that money and invest it in increased capacity,” LaPlante said, adding that the Pentagon chose to increase capacity for the long term.

“Secretary LaPlante is wrong. He’s 100% wrong. We are going to build two a year. He can talk to all the appropriators he wants; we’re going to authorize two per year. We know what happens with the industry if you go to one per year,” Wittman told Defense News.

On the one hand, the Navy wants a submarine fleet to give the U.S. a “tactical advantage” against adversaries, said Wittman, who is vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee. But then the service seeks a single submarine per year, he added, saying it doesn’t believe industry can build two annually.

“Well you know what? If you don’t send a demand signal to the industry, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.

He acknowledged the difficulty in recruiting and training a workforce for submarine construction, but also said he has seen progress at both General Dynamics’ Electric Boat and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding in growing their respective workforces to ramp up production rates.

Wittman said asking for a single boat in FY25 would force some companies to lay off the very workers they need to expand the industrial base capacity in support of the Navy’s needs. He also pointed to the upcoming sale of three to five Virginia-class subs to Australia through the AUKUS trilateral agreement.

He called the Navy’s mitigation strategy “baloney,” noting that buying long-lead materials through increased advance procurement funding won’t help the supply chain in the same way that simply buying a second submarine would.

And there’s a sense of urgency in building up the naval force, according to Wittman, who cited China’s threats to unify itself with Taiwan by force if necessary. Beijing considers the island a rogue province.

The Navy similarly asked to buy one submarine in FY21. That year, both the authorizers in their NDAA and the appropriators in their defense spending bill added in the second submarine.

“Secretary LaPlante is wrong. Secretary [of the Navy Carlos] Del Toro is wrong. We are going to do two submarines, period. And they better get with the program, or — or else,” Wittman said.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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