Report on Virginia-class Attack Submarine Program, AUKUS Proposal

October 31, 2023 12:46 PM

The following is the Oct. 23, 2023, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

Issues for Congress regarding the Navy’s Virginia (SSN-774) class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) program include the FY2024 procurement funding request for the program and the proposal for selling three to five Virginia-class boats to Australia and transferring U.S. submarine and naval nuclear propulsion technology to Australia under a U.S.-UK-Australia security agreement called AUKUS.

Virginia-class FY2024 procurement funding. The Navy has been procuring Virginia (SSN-774) class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) since FY1998, and a total of 38 have been procured through FY2023. Since FY2011, Virginia-class boats have been procured at a rate of two per year. Most Virginia-class boats procured in FY2019 and subsequent years are to be built with the Virginia Payload Module (VPM), an additional, 84-foot-long, mid-body section equipped with four large-diameter, vertical launch tubes for storing and launching additional Tomahawk missiles or other payloads. When procured at a rate of two boats per year, VPM-equipped Virginia-class SSNs have an estimated procurement cost of about $4.3 billion per boat. The Navy’s current ship force-level goal, which was released in December 2016, calls for achieving and maintaining a fleet of 355 manned ships, including 66 SSNs. Under the Navy’s FY2024 30-year (FY2024-FY2053) shipbuilding plan, which includes three alternatives, the SSN force would reach a minimum of 46 boats in FY2030 and grow to 60, 69, or 63 boats by FY2053.

The Navy’s proposed budget requests the procurement of the 39th and 40th Virginia-class boats. The Navy’s FY2024 budget submission states that one of the two boats is to be built to a special configuration referred to as the “Modified VIRGINIA Class Subsea and Seabed Warfare (Mod VA SSW)” configuration. The two boats requested for procurement in FY2024 have an estimated combined procurement cost of $9,427.6 million (i.e., about $9.4 billion), including $5,356.9 million for the Mod VA SSW boat and $4,070.7 million for the other boat. The two boats have received a combined total of $2,297.7 million in prior-year advance procurement (AP) funding, and the Navy’s proposed FY2024 budget requests the remaining $7,130.0 million needed to complete their estimated combined procurement cost. The Navy’s proposed FY2024 budget also requests $1,855.5 million in AP funding for Virginia-class boats to be procured in future fiscal years, $1,360.0 million in Economic Order Quantity (EOQ) funding, which is an additional kind of AP funding that can occur under an MYP contract, and $168.2 million in cost-to-complete (CTC) funding to cover cost growth on Virginia-class boats procured in prior years, bringing the total amount of procurement, AP, EOQ, and CTC funding requested for FY2024 to $10,513.7 million (i.e., about $10.5 billion).

In addition to the above requested funds, on October 20, 2023, the Administration submitted a request for FY2024 emergency supplemental funding for national security priorities that includes, among other things, a total of $3,393.2 million in funding for the submarine industrial base to support construction of new submarines and maintenance of existing submarines.

AUKUS submarine proposal. In September 2021, the U.S., UK, and Australian governments announced a significant new security partnership, called AUKUS. The proposed first major initiative under AUKUS, referred to as Pillar 1, would be a project to rotationally deploy up to five U.S. and UK SSNs out of a port in Western Australia, and more significantly, for Australia, with U.S. and UK assistance, to acquire, operate, and maintain its own force of eight conventionally armed SSNs, including three to five Virginia-class SSNs that would be sold to Australia. Key questions for Congress regarding the proposed Pillar 1 pathway include the following: Should Congress approve, reject, or modify the proposed sale of three to five Virginia-class attack submarines to Australia? Should Congress approve, reject, or modify the proposed transfer of U.S. submarine and naval nuclear-propulsion technology to Australia?

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