Washington – President Donald Trump’s 2021 budget request cuts from two to one the number of Virginia-class submarines that would be funded in next year’s budget.
General Dynamic’s Electric Boat, in partnership with Huntington-Ingalls’ Newport News Shipbuilding, has for more than a decade built two submarines a year, but the president’s budget, released Monday, only includes $4.6 billion for one Virginia-class boat.
That decision was immediately slammed by proponents of the Virginia-class program.
“As Chair of the (Armed Services) Seapower Subcommittee, I can say with complete certainty that, like so much of the rest of the president’s budget, it is dead on arrival,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the elimination of a sub in next year’s defense budget “is a draconian cut that makes no sense when our adversaries are aggressively expanding.”
“It’s an insult to the hardworking and skilled men and women who make our nation’s submarines,” Blumenthal said.
The reduction in the number of submarines is a result of the Navy’s plan to reduce its shipbuilding budget by $4 billion from what it requested in 2020.
That reduction in the budget is part of the Navy’s plan to dial back the number of ships it wants to build both next year and in the coming five years. According to a budget overview, the Navy is calling for the acquisition of 44 ships through 2025 instead of the 55 the Navy projected last year.
Courtney said “this weak, pathetic request for eight ships – of which two are tugboats” does not square with the Navy’s long-term defense plan, which calls for a 355-ship fleet.
“It is the worst-kept secret in Washington that last-minute maneuvering led to the shipbuilding budget being robbed to pay for other pet projects by the Office of Management and Budget,” Courtney said. “Growing the fleet – and funding the investments necessary – is either a priority for the Administration or it’s not. Unfortunately, the Defense Department leadership was unable to withstand the pressure to use the shipbuilding account as a piggy bank…”
In budget documents, the Navy said it has enough ships in the pipeline and doesn’t need any more added next year.
Because of that pipeline, the reduction next year in Virginia-class subs would not be felt at Electric Boat shipyards for several years. But proponents of submarine construction, like Connecticut’s Democratic lawmakers, have been pressing for a construction rate of more, not fewer, submarines each year.
The Navy said some of the money in the shipbuilding budget was needed to boost spending on nuclear weapons.
“We had to make some tough choices and realign some priorities,” said Acting Under Secretary of Defense Comptroller Elaine McCusker.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said “I’ve fought hard to increase spending and boost our submarine workforce. I stand ready to fight any attempt of this administration to reduce our submarine force to pay for more nuclear weapons.”
Courtney said that “year after year” Congress has heard from Navy officials and others about the growing demand for submarine capabilities as countries like China and Russia step up their undersea activity.
“They have urgently warned us that we need more submarine construction, not less, in order to mitigate the nearly 20 percent reduction in the fleet we presently face within this decade,” Courtney said. “That’s why we worked so hard to achieve and sustain the two-a-year build rate since 2011. Deviating from that plan now makes no sense, and I am confident we will address this incoherent decision in the 2021 defense bill.”
Congress has to approve the 2021 federal budget and usually makes changes to a president’s request.
But proponents of sub construction in Congress will have to compete with fellow lawmakers whose interests are in other types of shipbuilding, including frigates and Arleigh Burke DDG-51 destroyers built in Maine by General Dynamics.
The Pentagon’s shift toward more spending on nuclear weapons benefits other weapons systems built in Connecticut.
The budget proposes spending $4.4 billion next year on the massive Columbia-class nuclear ballistic submarine, and $11.4 billion on the production of 79 nuclear capable F-35 jets, whose engines are built by Pratt & Whitney.
The budget also proposes to spend $2.8 billion on the new B-21 long range bomber, whose engines are also produced by Pratt & Whitney.
The Pentagon also requested Congress appropriate money for helicopters built by Sikorsky, including $739 million for 5 presidential helicopters, $1.5 billion for 7 CH53 King Stallion helicopters and 26 Black Hawks, at a cost of about $174 million.
Big cuts to social programs
While Trump kept the nation’s military budget at last year’s level, he proposed a sharp reduction in domestic spending and the shrinking or reduction of a number of health, education and social programs.
The budget would cut Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, food stamps, several federal education programs and federal child care grants.
It proposes reducing the budgets of the National Institutes of Health by $3.3 billion and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by $678 million and contains no new money to battle coronavirus.
The president’s budget also proposes eliminating a number of programs, including the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, which helps many Connecticut residents pay for heating.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said “President Trump has once again shown his disdain for those who are struggling to make ends meet.”
“As with his previous budgets, this one is going nowhere,” DeLauro said. “As chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, we are going to continue investing in working people, the middle class, and the most vulnerable—not millionaires, billionaires, corporations, and special interests.”
Blumenthal said “many of these proposals were made last year and they were rejected.”