Washington – The House Armed Services Committee has moved to boost submarine construction, which would allow Electric Boat to build an additional Virginia-class sub in each of the years 2020, 2022 and 2023.
The planned increase in submarine production is part of the proposed sea power section of the 2018 House Defense Authorization bill that was released by the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday.
The legislation, crafted by the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower & Projection Forces, would authorize the fifth lot of 13 Virginia-class subs, which are built jointly by Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.
It would increase the pace of submarine construction from the current two-per year to three from 2020 to 2023. In 2021, Electric Boat would build two Virginia-class subs and the first of the new Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine. Three Virginia-class subs would be built in each of the other years.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said the ramp-up in submarine production is a response to Navy concerns that the retirement of older submarines would leave U.S. forces short of sea power.
“This has been building up over the past two or three years,” Courtney said of the Navy’s concerns. “(The Navy) can barely deal with the underseas fleet from China and Russia right now.”
Unless submarine production is accelerated, the number of U.S. submarines will shrink from the current 52 boats to 42 in the mid-2020s.
“The hulls on the Los Angeles-class submarines are just wearing out,” said Courtney, who is a the top Democrat on the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces.
During an April congressional hearing, Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said, “right now we’re at 52 going to 42. And — and that’s completely in the wrong direction.”
Both the Obama administration and the Trump administration have called for a substantial increase in the numbers of ships and submarines.
But the Trump budget for 2018 did not provide for that growth, although it called for two-a-year production of the Virginia-class sub.
Courtney said he’s confident Congress will boost money for the Navy’s seapower budget.
“We can figure out ways to make this work because we have a little bit of time,” he said.
Under legislation unveiled by the House Armed Services Committee, the Navy would also be allowed to increase its carrier fleet from 11 to 12.
The Senate plans to begin work on its defense authorization bill next week.