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Senate, House take different views on Virginia class sub funding

The USS Illinois is now a commissioned Virginia-class submarine. (U.S. Navy/Released)
November 16, 2020

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have taken different views on the pace of Virginia class submarine construction, a big block of business for Newport News Shipbuilding.

Both want to move faster than the single boat the Trump Administration proposed funding next fiscal year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee added $472 million to the $4.2 billion the administration proposed for a single Virginia class submarine in fiscal year 2021, with the additional money slated for advanced procurement for a second boat. Its counterpart in the House approved a total of $6.8 billion to fully fund two submarines in 2021.

Working as a team, building major components of the submarines and trading off assembly work, Newport News and General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard have been building Virginia class subs at a two-per-year pace since 2011.

Because the House and Senate have different views on funding Virginia class submarines next year, the issue now goes to a conference committee to try to work out the differences.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D. Va., who has pushed for full funding for two Virginia class submarines next year, is pleased that his colleagues on the Appropriations committee at least agreed to the additional $472 million for advanced procurement for a second boat, a spokeswoman said. She said Kaine he believes full funding for two submarines is critical to strengthen our national security and our shipbuilding industry. His understanding is that the additional funds for advanced procurement will allow the two-boat-a-year pace over the long term.

Rep, Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, the most senior minority party member of the House’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said it is unfortunate the Senate panel did not fully fund a second boat.

He said three other Congressional defense panels, as well as combatant commanders and the long term defense plan said the subs address the Navy’s greatest need.

“Simply put, attack submarines are our greatest asymmetrical advantage with China and we cannot let it slip,” Wittman said.

“The two-a-year build rate is the minimum pace we must sustain, and I am hopeful this funding will find its way into the final version of the Defense appropriations package,” he added.

In its 296-page explanatory statement of changes the Senate committee approved to the administration’s defense budget, the panel noted that the Navy’s latest contract Virginia class subs cut the number to built in Block V over the next several years from 10 to 9. That $22.2 billion contract, awarded to the Newport News-Electric Boat team, was largest shipbuilding contract ever.

“The Committee is concerned that the Navy continues to inject programmatic, acquisition, and fiscal uncertainty into the VCS program,” the Senate spending committee said in the statement

This summer, the Senate Armed Services Committee accepted Kaine’s proposal to authorize 10 Block V boats. But it is the appropriations committee that says how much will be be spent.

“We have worked closely with the Congress, the Navy and our suppliers to achieve the current building rate of two Virginia-class submarines per year, and we are encouraged by the continuing Congressional support to accelerate the program,” said Newport News spokesman Duane Borune.

“We will continue to work closely with the Navy and the Congress as the appropriations process moves forward to ensure understanding of potential impacts to the submarine industrial base,” he added.


(c) 2020 the Daily Press

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