Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Maker Sees Support For 2nd Virginia-Class Attack Boat in FY 2021

May 5, 2020 3:14 PM
Virginia-class submarine Washington (SSN-787) under construction in 2016 at Newport News Shipbuilding, Va. HII Photo

Support for adding a second Virginia-class fast attack submarine to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget is growing on Capitol Hill, according to executives from BWX Technologies, the maker of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion units.

The $2.7-billion second Virginia-class submarine tops the Navy’s $5.4-billion unfunded priorities list for FY 2021. When President Donald Trump submitted his FY 2021 Department of Defense budget proposal in February, funding for only one Virginia-class submarine was requested.

“On the budget front, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are slated to provide their markups to the president’s budget request in the coming months, and we’re seeing incremental bipartisan support for a second Virginia-class submarine in the FY 21 budget discussions,” Rex Geveden, the chief executive of BWX Technologies, told analysts during a Tuesday morning conference call.

When first released, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle panned the president’s proposed FY 2021 shipbuilding plan. Including a second Virginia-class submarine on its unfunded priorities list “adds capable capacity consistent with National Defense Strategy focus on Great Power Competition. This enables Navy to buy a 10th Virginia-class submarine under the Block V contract,” reads the Navy’s justification in a copy of the list reviewed by USNI News.

BWX Technologies makes the nuclear propulsion units for the Navy’s submarine and aircraft carrier fleets. The company is ramping up production of reactors for the Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine program and continues building reactors for Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, Geveden said.

The Navy started planning for the possibility of not getting funding for a second Virginia-class submarine months before the proposed FY 2021 budget was released. In December, the service awarded a contract for Block V Virginia-class subs that included just nine subs with an option for a 10th, instead of the assumed 10 subs with options for additional boats if the Navy wanted to grow its fleet faster in line with the National Defense Strategy and other maritime strategies. James Geurts, the Navy’s top weapons buyer, said when the contract was awarded that the Navy planned to still pay Virginia-class program suppliers to deliver ten ship sets of goods even if the optional tenth submarine was not funded.

Now, as lawmakers consider the proposed DoD FY 2021 budget, Geveden told analysts he doesn’t expect BWX Technologies will experience a significant financial hit. In the event the FY 2021 budget isn’t passed on time, resulting in a continuing resolution temporarily funding the federal government at FY 2020 levels, Geveden said BWX Technologies would only experience a minimal funding cut. The payments in FY 2020 are similar to what is expected in FY 2021, he said.

“We may see a scenario where the second Virginia-class submarine hull is not ordered, but the nuclear propulsion equipment for a second submarine is still ordered with advanced procurement funding,” Geveden said. “This would enable the government to keep shop hours balanced and take advantage of cost efficiencies through optimized production volume for these key systems that BWXT provides for the Navy’s nuclear fleet.”

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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