Block V Virginia-Class Deal Meets Muted Response in Congress

November 4, 2019 4:54 PM
Rendering of Block V Virginia-class submarine with Virginia Payload Module. General Dynamics Electric Boat Image

The Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat appear to have reached an agreement to build nine Block V Virginia-class submarines with an option for a tenth, but the pending deal is getting tepid applause from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services seapower and projection of forces subcommittee released statements applauding a long-awaited Block V deal that was nearly complete. But they voiced concern over what the agreement includes, the two lawmakers said in separate Monday statements. Details, including the total cost of the pending agreement, were not released.

The agreement to build nine Block V Virginia attack submarines with an option for a tenth is less than what the Department of the Navy had previously said it was seeking. The Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2020 President’s Budget Submission Estimates, released earlier this year, described negotiations for 10-submarine Block V buy during fiscal years 2019 through 2023.

Block V incorporates acoustic superiority modifications and puts the Virginia Payload Module on seven of the submarines. The Navy sought funding for a third Virginia-class submarine in the FY 2020 budget request, according to the FY 2020 Budget Submissions Estimates.

“Today’s news that the Block V contract is reaching the final backstretch with a framework that will be built around a minimum of nine subs and an option for a tenth to maintain the program of record shows real progress in terms of getting a stable workload for this critical program,” Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said in a statement.
“As recently as last Thursday, myself and ranking member (Rep. Rob) Wittman (R-Va.) met personally with the Secretary of the Navy to emphatically restate Congress’s support for the President’s budget request for two subs a year, as well as the Administration’s request for an eleventh submarine. The final design of the contract is still weeks away, and we are going to continue to advocate for a program that addresses the Navy’s attack submarine shortfall as well as integrates this program into the Columbia class (ballistic missile submarine program) that is beginning in earnest. If the Navy believes that the option for a tenth boat is the best way forward, then using the Congressionally-mandated option in 2023 is the most prudent way to achieve that goal.”

Wittman, though, was more direct in criticizing the apparent deal, which reduces submarine production at a time the Navy’s entire submarine fleet is projected to shrink as older subs retire at a quicker pace than new ones can be built.

“Our combatant commanders have been consistent that the most critical asset they need are attack submarines, and this is before we realize a 20 percent reduction over the next ten years,” Wittman said in a statement. “Industry is prepared to execute and the Navy needs to deliver – Congress is clearly behind them. While the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has certified a nine-ship multiyear, a ten-ship multiyear would provide additional cost savings. Therefore, not only is a ten-ship multiyear more cost-effective, it is a strategic imperative – we need to reverse the continued loss of submarines before it is too late.”

The Navy would not disclose details of the pending deal, nor would the department verify the accuracy of Courtney’s and Wittman’s statements, Capt. Danny Hernandez, a Navy spokesman, told USNI News. A spokesperson from General Dynamics Electric Boat, the prime contractor for the submarine programs, could not be immediately be reached.

“The Navy is dedicated to the Block V Virginia Class program as it will enable the Navy to continue to modernize the nation’s fast attack submarine fleet while providing critical lethality improvements over the Block IV baseline,” Hernandez said in a statement. “The Navy has reached agreement on the Block V Virginia Class submarine contract, and by the end of the calendar year the Navy intends to award these submarines under a multiyear contract that will enable stability in the industrial base and significant savings over annual procurements. The multiyear contract will achieve significant savings, will include important lethality enhancements, and will provide critical stability to the industrial base. Further information will be available upon contract award.”

Ben Werner

Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a staff writer for USNI News. He has worked as a freelance writer in Busan, South Korea, and as a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

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