Wittman: Restoring 2nd Virginia Major Hill Goal for 2021 NDAA

March 4, 2020 1:14 PM - Updated: March 4, 2020 5:39 PM
Sailors aboard to Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Delaware (SSN-791) on Nov. 5, 2019. US Navy Photo

The following post was updated to include a statement from Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations defense subcommittee.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Restoring funding for a second Virginia-class fast-attack submarine in Fiscal Year 2021 tops the list of priorities when lawmakers form the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act, said Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee.

The administration’s FY 2021 shipbuilding request is for $19.9 billion to build eight ships. Along with cutting funding for the Virginia-class sub, the FY 2021 request is the smallest for the Navy since 2015 and is four ships fewer than the FY 2020 ship procurement. The request includes cutting funding for the second Virginia-class submarine in FY 2021.

Replacing funding for the second Virginia-class submarine tops the list of shipbuilding priorities, Wittman said Wednesday while speaking at the McAleese and Associates Defense Programs Conference.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we’re going to get that back in,” Wittman said. “It’s like anything else, once the president’s budget comes over in order to get money into an account, to add something, you got to find money somewhere else. So without a topline that’s going up, our job is where do you find those dollars.”

President Donald Trump, in FY 2021, is requesting $705.4 billion in funding for the Department of Defense. The budget request provides $207.1 billion for the Navy and Marine Corps in FY 2021, which is about 1.4 percent less than FY 2020.

Shortly after Wittman spoke, about a mile away the administration’s proposed FY 2021 shipbuilding plan was criticized by Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations defense subcommittee.

“We hear time and again that more ships are required but actions like these are taken severely undercutting the credibility of the argument,” Visclosky said during a hearing. “I am bewildered by the Navy’s approach to the Virginia-class submarine in the budget. The Navy removed funding for a second Virginia-class submarine then placed it at the top of its massive unfunded priority list knowing full well that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will advocate to find the $2.8 billion dollars to construct that boat. It is clear to me that the Navy didn’t make the difficult choices required to reduce other programmatic to fund the second submarine and expects Congress to do so.”

Two years ago, when HASC pushed to squeeze a third Virginia-class into the NDAA, Wittman said the authorization received bipartisan support in HASC but hit a wall with appropriators who were concerned with where the funding would come from to pay for an additional sub. The third Virginia-class wasn’t added.

Now, Wittman said there’s a greater realization on the Hill of the program’s significance and the Navy’s current contract allows for the sub and the funding cut from the President’s FY 2021 budget does not represent the full cost of building a Virginia-class sub. HASC isn’t trying to add a sub to the production plan, Wittman said, but restore the production plan.

“I feel orders of magnitude better now than two years ago,” Wittman said.

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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