Members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation are seeking millions of dollars in funding for top priorities related to submarines and military construction projects — two areas that greatly contribute to the state’s economy and workforce.
They are looking for Congress to approve two major must-pass bills for fiscal year 2024 that contain significant investments for the expansion at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, submarine construction and research and development at Electric Boat, engine modernization at Pratt & Whitney and funding for helicopters at Sikorsky.
Lawmakers are currently engaged in the early stages of negotiating and passing appropriations bills to fund the federal government and the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that sets policy for the military.
Both bills passed in separate committee meetings last week, but funding will not be authorized and implemented until Congress fully approves them. Government funding will run out at the end of September, though it could be extended in the short term through the end of 2023 or longer, while the NDAA needs to pass by the end of the year.
Connecticut typically gets significant wins for many of its priorities from these pieces of legislation. The most recent appropriations bill to fund the government approved upwards of $236 million for more than 170 projects in Connecticut.
And last year’s NDAA authorized major funding for the state’s big three defense contractors — Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky, General Dynamics’ Electric Boat and Raytheon Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney — as well as for many of the smaller companies that serve as suppliers.
New London Sub Base could see major investment
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., are touting the inclusion of more than $331 million toward projects at the New London Submarine Base in the military construction and veterans administration appropriations bill. The measure was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
Of the total, about $112 million will go toward the extension of Pier 31. The remaining $219 million will be used for the Weapons Magazine & Ordnance Operations Facility at the base. These projects would support submarines with the Virginia Payload Module and a new weapons magazine for more storage to go with the module.
“This is a major investment in the New London Sub Base that will create good-paying jobs and ensure the base continues to be the finest in the world,” said Murphy, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “These projects will make room for two more Virginia-class submarines on Pier 31 and modernize the weapons storage facilities to current standards.”
The base is located near Electric Boat’s facilities in Groton and plays a major role in Connecticut’s sub industry. It was designated as the Navy’s first submarine base in 1915, and it houses combat-ready submarines and trains professionals.
“These major federal investments will support the unparalleled national defense efforts at Submarine Base New London and expand critical health services for veterans across the state,” Blumenthal said. “I am proud to see major funding allocated to the Pier 31 extension project to ensure the Submarine Base can support the next generation of Virginia class submarines.”
Focus on CT defense contractors
If the NDAA passes Congress in its current form, it would authorize about $18.2 billion for submarine procurement, repair, and research and development. That amount is a few billion dollars higher than what was approved for the current fiscal year.
The proposed investments for Electric Boat and other companies in the state’s sub industrial base come at a time when the U.S. is ramping up its submarine production as part of a trilateral security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom, commonly known as AUKUS. The company is one of the primary manufacturers of the Virginia-class model and would help provide Australia with its first fleet of nuclear-powered subs.
Pending congressional approval, Australia would initially buy three Virginia-class submarines with the potential for two more. Electric Boat locations in Connecticut and Rhode Island handle much of the Virginia-class shipbuilding along with Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. The first delivery of subs could happen in the early 2030s.
The House Armed Services Committee also approved the NDAA last Thursday. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, once again helped champion the shipbuilding component, especially with the implementation of AUKUS. Electric Boat is located in his district, while Pratt & Whitney is in Rep. John Larson’s 1st District and Sikorsky is in Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s 3rd District.
For submarines specifically, the NDAA would authorize $10 billion to keep up with the construction of two Virginia-class subs a year at Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding through 2026. Courtney authored a provision that would help increase the procurement rate in relation to AUKUS.
The bill would also support nearly $6 billion in funding for Columbia-class submarines, $1.2 billion in sub research and development, and $735 million to support submarine supplier development, shipyard infrastructure and workforce development efforts.
“For eastern Connecticut, the FY24 NDAA bill will help maintain our region’s role as the submarine capital of the world and strengthen our entire defense industrial base,” Courtney said. “It authorizes full funding for both the Virginia-class and Columbia-class programs — and provides the Navy with the authority to exceed the two-per-year build rate for Virginia-class submarines.”
“That’s coupled with continued, steady investments in submarine suppliers, shipyard infrastructure and workforce development initiatives — including eastern Connecticut’s Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative,” he continued.
For Connecticut’s aerospace priorities, the bill would enable funding for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and the F135 engine. President Joe Biden’s budget proposal sought money for the modernization of the F135 engine manufactured by Pratt & Whitney, and the NDAA would authorize the request of $431 million. The bill would also approve the budget requests for 24 Black Hawk helicopters and 15 CH-53K heavy lift helicopters built by Sikorsky.
While both pieces of legislation usually get approved and signed into law, passage often gets delayed, particularly with partisan gridlock over spending. And with a Republican-led House and a Democratic-controlled Senate, sought-after funds could get shuffled around, blocked or obstructed until there is agreement.
But when it comes to the defense elements of these bills, there is typically more bipartisan alignment.
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.