Washington – Congress has begun work on the Pentagon’s 2020 budget, approving an increase in spending on many of the weapons programs that are made in Connecticut.
On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved nearly $4.7 billion to continue the two-a-year pace of construction of Virginia Class submarines built jointly by Electric Boat and Virginia’s Newport News Shipbuilding. The allocation adds more than $522 million to the program to pay for the “Virginia Payload Modules,” which will be placed on all boats built in 2020 and beyond. That module makes the subs longer and increases the number of missiles each sub is able to launch.
The committee also added nearly $4.3 billion in advance procurement to build three Virginia Class submarines — most probably in 2023 — and approved more than $1.8 billion in advanced procurement money for the Columbia class program, a new nuclear ballistic sub that would replace aging Ohio-class submarines, $125 million above President Donald Trump’s budget request.
Like the Virginia class boats, the Columbia-class submarines will be built through a partnership between Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding.
The bill reported out of the Senate Armed Services Committee also increases from 78 to 94 the number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, whose engines are made by Pratt & Whitney, allocating more than $10 billion for the program.
The panel also approved $807.9 million for six CH-53K “King Stallion” helicopters, which are made by Sikorsky, and more than $72 million to build a new pier at Naval Submarine Base New London.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pressed for more money for F-35s, King Stallion ‘copters and other weapon systems built in Connecticut. But he was rebuffed by his colleagues when he tried to obtain the committee’s approval for the president’s request for 73 Sikorsky made Black Hawk helicopters. The panel only authorized funding for 66 Black Hawks.
Still, the Senate’s $750 billion National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which must be approved by the full Senate, would substantially increase the amount of defense dollars spent in Connecticut next year.
“The bill makes major, unprecedented investments in the submarines, helicopters, and aircraft built in Connecticut – keeping our country safe and our state’s economy strong,” Blumenthal said. “I was proud to fight for every dollar of defense spending in this bill – not just because it supports thousands of jobs at home in Connecticut, but because it protects our men and women in uniform around the world.”
In the coming weeks the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, controlled by Democrats, will release its own version of the National Defense Authorization Act which must be reconciled with the version in the Republican-controlled Senate before it can be passed.
The U.S. House and the U.S. Senate must also approve defense appropriations bill before the money for defense programs can be spent.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved $1.5 billion in advanced procurement money for a third Virginia -class sub.
“It’s good news that the Senate Armed Services Committee, in alignment with actions taken by the House Appropriations Committee last week, include authorization for a third submarine in its FY20 National Defense Authorization Act,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
Courtney, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee who has been pressing to step up Virginia-class sub production, said “we’ve heard testimony from Navy officials that additional submarines are urgently needed to support our nation’s security…”
Voting along party lines, the House Appropriations Committee’s Democrats cut Trump’s budget request for the Pentagon by $8 billion.
The House defense spending bill would also curtail the use of defense dollars to build Trump’s border wall and would end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen.