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Senate panel pushes to step up the pace for submarine work

The Virginia Class submarine USS Delaware returns up the James River to Newport News Shipbuilding form three days of sea trials Friday August 30, 2019. (Rob Ostermaier / Daily Press/TNS)
June 13, 2020

The U.S. Senators who tell their colleagues what the country should spend on the military voted to reverse a Trump Administration plan to tap the brakes on the Navy’s submarine-building program.

The National Defense Authorization Act that the Senate Armed Services Committee approved Thursday includes Sen. Tim Kaine’s proposal to fund a second Virginia-class submarine that the Administration dropped in its fiscal year 2021 budget request.

“The NDAA is the most important thing I do every year …. this one is a very, very strong bill for Virginia,” Kaine said.

The submarine is to be the tenth one in the block of Virginia-class boats being built in a joint effort by Newport News Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Most will include a new 84-foot section, the Virginia Payload Module, that contains additional tubes that boosts the submarine’s capacity from 12 to 40 missiles.

Kaine, a member of the committee, argued for an additional $1.4 billion to the shipbuilding budget to pay for the sub the Trump Administration had dropped.

The committee’s agreement to add the money would bring the total shipbuilding budget for next year to more than $21 billion, if approved by the full Senate and the House of Representatives.

The committee also agreed to an amendment Kaine proposed this week to prevent the use of military force against peaceful protesters.

Kaine said he wasn’t sure if he’d get enough Republican support for the idea, but it passed on a unanimous voice vote.

“About six hours before [the vote] I started getting wind that there was some Republican support,” he said.

But when the amendment came up, and Kaine gave a quick chat about how James Madison had carefully bundled freedom of belief, freedom of expression and the freedom to assembly peaceably and to petition the goverment, the committee’s chairman, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., spoke up to say he couldn’t see how anyone could object.

The amendment for the submarine funding also went easily, also with backing from Inhofe.

“There is a lot of consensus on shipbuilding and ship repair,” Kaine said.

Kaine was among 15 senators who complained earlier this year that the administration plan to drop the second submarine from the fiscal 2021 budget “inexplicably delays the Navy’s goal of reaching 66 fast-attack submarines by 2048.”

The senators warned that slowing the two-per-year delivery pace for Virginia class submarines that started in 2011, could create a gap that would result in what they described as “supplier instability and workforce shortfalls.”

And that gap would come at a critical time — as Newport News and Electric Boat work build a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, the Columbia class, the senators noted.

Newport News will handle about 22% of the work on the Columbia boats. Since Electric Boat will handle most of the work on those boats, Newport News is taking on a greater role in Virginia-class production.

The Navy awarded a $22.2 billion contract for the current block of Virginia class boats, its largest shipbuilding contract ever, to the Newport News-Electric Boat team in early December. It called for nine boats, with an option for a 10th. Kaine’s amendment would fund that 10th boat.

Under the contract, Newport News is to deliver five of the nine submarines. The two yards team up on production of each, but alternate final assembly and delivery. Deliveries are scheduled from 2025 through 2029.

So far, Newport News and EB have delivered 18 Virginia-class submarines throughout the program, which replace the older Los Angeles-class subs.

The Senate committee action “is the first step in a long and complex budget process, and we will continue to work closely with the Navy and Congress as the process moves forward,” said Beci Brenton, corporate director of public affairs for Huntington Ingalls Inc., the shipyard’s parent company.

In addition to the submarine funding and ban on the use of the military against protesters, the committee agreed to Kaine’s requests to authorize spending totaling:

*$58 million for a Naval Special Warfare Group facility at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story

*$54.5 million for a Naval Special Warfare operations and command center at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story

*$30.4 million for a E-2D training facility at Naval Station Norfolk

*$17.7 million for a MH60 & CMV-22B corrosion control and paint facility at Naval Station Norfolk

*$19.5 million for an access control point gate and land acquisition at Joint Base Langley-Eustis and

* $9.4 million for a submarine logistics support facility at Naval Station Norfolk

It also approved his call for a plan for the best use of Navy and private ship repair yards, to avoid boom-and-bust hiring and layoff cycles and to keep investment in the Navy yards on track. Kaine’s amendments also provided funding to help military families with child care, mental health services and support for accompanying spouses when a servicemember is transferred.


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