New defense bill increases sub production, other CT defense work

General Dynamics Electric Boat

A Virginia-class attack submarine

Washington – A  new defense bill, a summary of which was released Friday, would authorize increased production of Virginia-class submarines built by Electric Boat and boost other Connecticut-made defense programs by even more than President Donald Trump requested.

The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, drafted by the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, would allow the Pentagon to spend about $717 billion in the next federal fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. That’s about $85 billion more than Trump requested in his defense budget.

The new defense bill would boost the number of Black Hawks and other types of helicopters and provides $1 billion for “long-lead-time material funding” next year to build two additional Virginia-class attack submarines, one in 2022 and one in 2023. The Navy had planned to build two Virginia-class sub in those years.

The Navy and Electric Boat are negotiating a five-year contract to build the next block of Virginia-class submarines. The last five-year contract called for 10 subs, and the five-year block before than called for only eight.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the NDAA “signals to both the Navy and Electric Boat that there is congressional support for 12 subs” in the next contract. Courtney also said that contract is expected to be signed at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

“This is a major down payment,” on increased submarine production, Courtney said.

The bill does not authorize full funding for additional submarines. It only approves an additional $1 billion to begin work on them. But Courtney said he is confident Congress will approve the money to fully pay for them in future defense budgets.

This week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced an agreement with Electric Boat aimed at helping the giant defense contractor boost construction and employment. Under the agreement, the state would help EB with about $85 million in worker training grants, tax breaks and loans that could be forgiven if certain conditions are met.

The NDAA outline also increases Trump’s request for Black Hawk helicopters – the president had asked for 50 — but it did not specify how many more. It also authorized spending on eight new heavy lift CH-53K King Stallion helicopters that, like the Black Hawks, are built by Sikorsky.

The bill also calls for 77 Lockheed Martin F-35s requested by Trump.

The bill also would implement a new law that’s the result of a bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy aimed at pressing federal agencies to improve their reporting to the FBI database that screens gun buyers.

The outline says the new defense bill “improves crime reporting by requiring DOD to establish a centralized oversight system to ensure criminal data is transmitted to the FBI database preventing the purchase of a firearm.”

A Black Hawk helicopter

The “Fix NICS Act,” included in a massive tax overhaul, aims to strengthen the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) used by the FBI to ensure convicted felons and domestic abusers cannot illegally purchase a firearm.

The database became the focus of national attention after the  U.S. Air Force disclosed it failed to report the domestic-violence history of a  gunman who killed 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. That history should have prevented the shooter from purchasing a firearm.

The summary of the NDAA also authorizes the Pentagon to organize a military parade the president has requested.

The summary says it “agrees with President Trump that it is appropriate to honor and celebrate 100 years of patriotic sacrifice in a way that expresses appreciation and admiration for our men and women in uniform, including a parade in the nation’s capital and a national celebration for that purpose.”

While the bill supports the parade, it prohibits the use of operational military units or equipment if Defense Secretary Jim Mattis believes it could hamper readiness.

Like previous defense bills, the latest one would prohibit a new base-closing round.

But it has a caveat.

The legislation would provide the Pentagon with “limited authority,” to close a base or defense installation if a governor recommends it.

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