Home » Budget Industry » Measure to Accelerate Virginia Attack Sub Acquisition Defeated in House Vote

Measure to Accelerate Virginia Attack Sub Acquisition Defeated in House Vote

Virginia-class attack submarine USS North Dakota (SSN-784) arrives at the Trident Refit Facility’s Magnetic Silencing Facility (MSF) in 2017. US Navy Photo

The Navy may have a tougher time negotiating for its next batch of attack submarines after the House voted not to include a measure that would give the service advanced procurement dollars to increase the rate of submarine construction.

An effort to add a billion dollars to the Fiscal Year 2019 defense spending bill to help the next Virginia-class contract get off to an efficient start was defeated, denying the Navy access to funds to cover long lead time materials – specifically the nuclear reactor – for the first of two additional submarines that the Navy and some lawmakers hope to add to the upcoming block buy contract. The contract was originally expected to cover 10 boats across 2019 through 2023.

As the Navy’s looming attack submarine shortfall drew more attention, though, the service researched industrial base capacity and realized the production lines could support adding a third boat in 2022 and 2023. The addition of two submarines in the block buy would have mitigated the impact of a shrinking submarine force at a time when combatant commanders around the globe increasingly request attack boat presence.

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.)

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), whose district includes the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard and who pushed for the increased funding for SSN advance procurement, told USNI News today that it would still be possible for the Navy to buy 12 submarines in the next contract, but it may not be as simple or as cost-effective as it could have been if the funding were included now.

The contract with Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding, who build the attack subs together in a teaming arrangement, will be completed by the end of this year or early next year, Courtney said. Without having a financial commitment to show the two yards and their suppliers that Congress is serious about wanting the additional boats, Courtney said he worried about the Navy’s and industry’s willingness to “go down this path of negotiating a contract with those options.”

The House Armed Services Committee’s 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that passed the House last month included authorization for a 12-sub contract and to spend the advance procurement funding needed to support the 2022 sub. While the House and Senate will have to work out the differences in their bills in a conference committee, Courtney said “I think you’re going to see an NDAA where that language still stands, and that’s a good thing in terms of sending a message to negotiators,” but it still falls short of the assurance of a billion-dollar down payment.

Asked about any next steps the Navy could take to keep the 12-submarine buy on track, Navy spokesman Capt. Danny Hernandez said it would be inappropriate to comment during the ongoing Block V Virginia-class contract negotiations.

According to a description of the billion-dollar plus-up in Courtney’s amendment, “The Navy has provided guidance to the House Armed Services Committee that three years of advance procurement funding, rather than the usual two years, in the amount requested is necessary to build these two additional submarines without disrupting the current industrial base. These funds would be used to purchase the most critical, long lead-time components to reduce manufacturing and construction risk. The Navy has reported to Congress ‘an increase in the build rate for [Virginia-class submarines] in FY22 and FY23 is viable without significant disruption to the current plan of record and is the most suitable ramp up for the shipbuilders, their suppliers, and the [nuclear industrial base].”

For the third submarine in 2022, that would mean the Navy would need to begin advance procurement activities next year. Courtney noted there was still time to allow that three-year advance procurement activity for the potential third boat in 2023, but he said the House declining to support the 2022 boat in this defense spending bill is indicative of a larger problem.

“The Navy has to make a decision, and frankly the White House needs to make a decision when they send their budget over, whether they’re really serious or not about meeting the challenges that our combatant commanders are telling all of us every time they come to Washington,” he told USNI News.
“At some point the strategic arguments the Navy keeps making … at some point they have to square that with what’s going to be the construction rate. Really we were following their breadcrumbs on this thing in terms of the two years that were identified [for adding a third boat]; that came from the Navy.”

Though the Navy is interested in the two additional hulls, the Pentagon is not. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan wrote a letter to House Appropriations defense subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) on Tuesday, the day before Courtney’s amendment came to the House floor for debate, to state that “The Department of Defense (DoD) objects to the proposed amendment.”

Pat Shanahan. 

Though Courtney’s amendment identified spending cuts to pay for the Virginia submarine advance procurement – including a trim to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer program to account for multi-ship savings that HASC assumed but the House Appropriations Committee did not, a trim to the John Lewis-class oiler program to account for cost savings between the lead ship and the follow-on ships that HAC didn’t account for, and so on – Shanahan wrote that, “Combined with the out-year cost of finishing the incrementally funded submarines, the Department would be required to cut over $6 billion from multiple programs such as reducing the buys of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, oilers and fast frigates.”

With the out-year budget toplines not yet decided, it is impossible to say whether the added submarine spending would come at the expense of other Navy or Defense spending priorities or would be added on top.

Shanahan went on to write that “The Virginia-class submarine provides crucial capabilities to the joint warfight. The current Navy fleet faces known shortfalls in attack submarine inventory in future years. However, in the FY 2019 President’s Budget we balanced the investment in this capability against other critical capabilities in areas such as space and cyber, and in emerging areas such as autonomy and artificial intelligence.”

Courtney told USNI News that the $6-billion figure Shanahan cited was “inflammatory and not grounded in the actual language of the amendment,” because the two additional submarines could be written into the block buy contract as options with off-ramps if defense budgets in a couple years ultimately could not support buying them.

“We were spending a lot of time, my staff was and subcommittee staff, trying to explain that to people. Obviously, that created a headwind for us going into the vote,” Courtney said.

With the best opportunity to help secure more rapid attack boat procurement now out the window, Courtney said “I hope that both parties (the Navy and the contractors) will embrace [the additional two submarines] as a part of the structure of the contract, because that at least gives the country the opportunity to try to go higher than 10 subs. … The best case scenario … is that we retain the authorizing language and that next year, once we see what the contract looks like, then I really think we need to have a focus from the administration as well as the appropriations committee to embrace this and make it feasible – which, at some point you’ve got to have an appropriation.”

  • Former Submariner

    Sounds like a lot of money until you need their capability.l

    • Fred Gould

      Based on capabilities and utility, a bargain.

  • NavySubNuke

    I know I can find the answer by digging around but I do wish USNI would provide the vote tally as well as who voted for and against.
    I would really like to do a side by side look at which House members voted to include include two extra LCS in the budget – despite the Navy not wanting them and the ships providing no actual capability to the fleet except as a sponge for money and personnel – but then turned around and voted not to include these two extra submarines.
    Certainly two extra SSN’s are not cheap – but 2 LCS aren’t either and at least the 2 SSNs would add capability to the fleet and be capable of making regular deployments to deter our enemies and (should deterrence fail) make it more likely that the Navy can fight and win the Nations wars.
    It truly is a sad day when congress sees Navy shipbuilding more as a jobs program than as a necessary part of our national defense.

    • NEC338x

      Courtney Ammendment #29 roll call vote #311, failed 267-144. Split was Dems Y-94, N-90. Pubs Y-50, N-177. Sixteen Reps failed to vote.

      • sferrin

        That’s surprising that that many Republicans voted against it. Hopefully it wasn’t, “that’s a Democrat’s state so screw ’em”.

        • NEC338x

          There were 37 amendments offered, success was hit and miss by party affiliation. Here’s amendments 805 thru 817 as a sample.

          Amendment to bar the use of funds in contravention of existing federal requirements for meaningful consultation and engagement with tribal communities related to activities that will impact them. Rep. Visclosky,
          Peter J. [D-IN-1] – Passed

          Amendment to reduce Coalition reimbursements to Pakistan. Sponsor: Rep. Poe, Ted [R-TX-2]- Failed

          Amendment to increase Breast Cancer Research Program funding by $5M. Rep. Visclosky, Peter J. [D-IN-1] – Passed

          Amendment to increase funding for Gulf War illness research by $1 million. Rep. Soto, Darren [D-FL-9] – Passed

          Amendment to provide $30M for the National Security Technology Accelerator, to support national security innovation and entrepreneurial education programs at universities. Reduces Operations and Maintenance-Defense Wide by the same amount. Rep. Lipinski, Daniel [D-IL-3] – Passed

          Amendment for advanced munitions and railgun development. Sponsor: Rep. Langevin, James R. [D-RI-2] – Failed

          Amendment to increase funding for the Quantum Information Sciences by $5M. Rep. Soto, Darren [D-FL-9] – Passed

          Amendment to increase A-10 wing replacement funds. Rep. McSally, Martha [R-AZ-2]- Passed

          Amendment to increase funding by $10M to the Defense POW/Missing Persons Office. Rep. Allen, Rick W. [R-GA-12]- Passed

          Amendment to fund and create a military service medal to honor retired and former members of the Armed Forces who are radiation-exposed veterans, Rep. McGovern, James P. [D-MA-2] – Passed

          Amendment to increase funding for the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program by $6M. Rep. Napolitano, Grace F. [D-CA-32] – Passed

          Amendment to increase funding for the STARBASE fifth grade youth STEM education program, and to reduce Operations and Maintenance, Army, Other Servicewide Activities by the offsetting amount. Rep. Lowenthal, Alan S. [D-CA-47] – Passed

          Amendment to fund technical assistance for U.S. military women to military women in other countries combating violence targeting women and children. Rep. Jackson Lee, Sheila [D-TX-18] – Passed

      • Duane

        Amendment to what bill exactly?

        • NEC338x

          I’ve never successfully gotten a hyperlink through USNI purgatory, so I don’t bother posting them. Just try and give enough detail for someone to use Google Fu. I’ll add a little bit more though.

          House Amendment 841 to House Resolution 6157, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2019.

          The description of the amendment was “Amendment sought to provide funding for long lead time materials to
          construct additional Virginia-class submarines in FY 2022 and FY 2023.” Offered 6/27/18, failed 6/28/18.

  • Ed L

    Rather have two dozen AIP submarines instead of the LCS’s. Those politicians are stupid. America needs submarines. AIP submarines power by Fuel-cell technology Which is probably the state of the art in AIP. A fuel cell uses hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, and has almost no moving parts. They can generate a lot of energy with minimal waste product, and are very quiet. German-built submarines have successfully taken advantage of fuel cell technology. Can do at least 3 weeks submerge. SSPs can exceed the performance of SSNs under certain conditions. They can take advantage of good endurance and extreme quiet to lay in ambush for approaching enemy vessels, although this requires good intelligence about enemy fleet deployments. They can also conduct short and medium range surveillance of enemy naval forces. In situations that favor small, maneuverable boats (shallow littorals, for example) they can pose a serious combat threat to their larger nuclear cousins

    • sferrin

      Oh hear we go again. I guess you think the USN has never heard of AIP submarines.

      • Duane

        He is one of those guys who advocates death trap AIP boats while having never served a day submerged in a sub on patrol in unfriendly waters, with warshots loaded in the tubes, all ears, and getting real close and unfriendly with the bad guys.

        Ed seems to be a typical keyboard warrior or ex-skimmer quite happy to risk the lives of other people on his pet theories of submarine operations, of which he knows nothing from first hand experience.

        The only people calling for the US Navy to build and operate diesel and AIP boats have never served on an SSN.

        As an ex-Cold Warrior SSN sailor, I will say that I could not imagine going to war underwater in anything less capable than a US Navy SSN.

    • Duane

      Submarines make lousy surface warships … and vice versa. The roles served by LCS are vital and cannot be replaced with SSNs, and again, vice versa. You didn’t just mix apples and oranges, you mixed apples and cattle.

  • ew_3

    Unless these two boats have a VPM I’d pass. Use the money later to buy two more boats with the VPM.

    • NavySubNuke

      Block V is the first block to include the VPMs.

  • Guido FL

    I find it amazing that the USN continues to throw $ BILLIONS at last century ship designs aka aircraft carriers? The carriers are good for peace time and Third World wars but obsolete against say Red China or Russia ! Let us hope we never find out what missile magnets the CVS’s are ?

    • sferrin

      Yeah, that must be why everybody’s building them. Don’t quit your day job.

    • ew_3

      what missile magnets the CVS’s are

      There goes my favorite drug store !

  • Duane

    Attributing this result to “the House” is not very informative. Was this a floor vote by the entire House, or a committee vote? Was this a vote on the 2019 defense authorization bill conference bill, or was it an appropriations bill, or was this offered as an amendment on some other must-pass bill?

    In any event, the final 2019 NDAA conference bill is far from negotiated, as well as the final 2019 appropriations bills.

    Much more importantly, what this impasse shows is that the funding for very expensive Virginia class SSNs (about $3B each and growing, especially the Block V hulls with VPM) is colliding with funding for surface warships, especially the Arleigh Burke Flight IIIs and Ford class CVNs

    Congress and the Navy obviously need to reexamine the fleet design and come up with some less costly alternatives to add capability yet avoid the irresistable force of fleet demands crashing upon the immovable rock of fiscal reality.

    One obvious alternative is to design and build a much shorter/smaller hunter-killer SSN devoid of the expensive Swiss Army knife philosophy of the Virginia class SSN that is now getting loaded up with capabilities and hull volume that add a lot of cost but add nothing to what ought to be the primary SSN mission: ASW.

    A pure hunter-killer ASW-focused SSN need not be more than 5,000 tons max (as compared to the 8,000+ tons of a Virginia), if not substantially less, that would be far cheaper (less than $2B) and being smaller, more maneuverable, and that sacrifices nothing in ASW capabilites that necessarily gets compromised in a jack of all trades/master of none SSN design.

    Also, building large numbers of the new and very expensive Flight III Air and Missile Defense destroyers may not be an optimum fleet design for the mid-21st century. Perhaps we would do better to hand over the land BMD mission to AEGIS Ashore installations, which cost vastly less to build and operate than large BMD destroyers, just as CNO Richardson stated directly a couple weeks ago. Instead, buy more frigates and unmanned surface vessels (and hunter-killer SSNs) to support a fleet that isn’t tied down running little race track patterns offshore of vital land assets.

    CNO complained that such land defense missions tie down at least 6 BMD ships sailing on BMD patrol at any one time, plus twice that many more ships in maintenance, training, and certification exercises … that comes to at least 18 ships costing a couple billion plus each performing a role that far cheaper land based assets can perform just as well.

    That is just plain dumb and wasteful!

    The fiscal problem is only going to get much worse after FY2019, thanks to the massive GOP tax cuts enacted last year that have already returned us to trillion dollar deficits THIS FISCAL YEAR, and which GAO projects will turn into multi trillion dollar deficits in the early 2020s.

  • eddie046

    Congress short stroking the military once again!

  • SDW

    More boats would be a good thing. Clearing up the maintenance backlog would be even better and would put more boats at sea faster.