The National Defense Authorization Act approved by the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday is good news for this region, with its funding for expedited attack submarine construction over the next several years and its commitment to a new generation of ballistic missile submarines.
The legislation also lays the groundwork for more submarine repair work at private shipyards, such as Electric Boat.
If these aspects of the bill win legislative approval and are signed into law by President Donald Trump, it will mean a work level at the EB shipyard in Groton, its offices in New London and its facility in Quonset Point, R.I., not seen in decades.
It will be a major challenge for the company, working with its co-builder, Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, to meet the expedited construction schedule, maintain an adequate supply chain and find and train the necessary skilled workforce. But that is a good challenge to have.
The EB workforce recently hit 15,000 and will continue to expand, providing a strong foundation to grow a local economy that otherwise has struggled.
But the bill passed out of the House Armed Services Committee, certainly inasmuch as it deals with submarine construction, is also good news on the national security front. The Pentagon must make up for years of inadequate submarine production as it works to make sure the United States maintains a Navy fleet that acts as a deterrent to any aggressive strategic initiatives by China and Russia.
The role of the submarine force has grown through the years. In addition to submarine warfare, attack submarines can be used to gather intelligence by electronically monitoring communications offshore. Some submarines are outfitted to stealthily deliver special operation forces.
Maintaining a fleet of submarines capable of delivering a retaliatory nuclear ballistic missile strike, difficult to detect as they move through the world’s oceans, has proved to be an effective deterrent for a half-century against enemies that might consider a first-strike against the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Though serving in the minority party in the House since 2011, Democratic Congressman Joe Courtney of eastern Connecticut’s 2nd District has nonetheless proved an effective advocate for the importance of maintaining our underwater force. Courtney, the ranking member of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, which oversees ship construction, has earned the respect of colleagues in both parties for his informed and fact-based arguments. A moderate, Courtney knows how to cut a deal across the aisle.
The bill, which aligns closely with legislation in the Senate, authorizes $6.2 billion for the Virginia class submarine program. In addition to continuing the two-submarines-per-year construction plan for the next couple of years, the bill includes procurement authority for 13 Virginia-class attack submarines in the next several years, with a three-submarine build rate envisioned in 2020, 2022 and 2023.
Also included is $1.9 billion to continue development and design of the Columbia class of submarines, which will replace the fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile firing nuclear submarines that provide the sea-based leg of the nuclear triad. The figure includes $1 billion for research and development, and nearly $900 million for detailed design.
The legislation continues the expanding use of the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund, a mechanism that Courtney has promoted as a special source of funds for the immensely expensive Columbia construction program, which threatens to crowd out other Navy construction needs if not handled in a separate account. Building the planned 12 submarines will cost an estimated $350 billion.
The bill includes a requirement that the Navy develop a comprehensive plan to address serious delays in surface ship and submarine repair and maintenance work, a plan that could well lead to EB and other private yards getting more work to relieve overwhelmed Navy shipyards.
What Congress should not do is buy into President Trump’s argument that necessary increases in defense spending should come at the expense of environmental protection, education, housing and health research, all areas the president has proposed for deep cuts.
“A great country can do both,” Courtney said of providing for national defense and addressing these domestic needs.
Indeed, it can and it must. Congress won’t bring the federal budget under control by slashing domestic programs or sacrificing national security. Needed are entitlement reforms, but that’s an area where both Republicans and Democrats need to show more backbone.
By The Day Editorial Board
The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board’s discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.
Originally Published in the New London Day June 29. 2017 5:59PM | Updated June 30. 2017 10:35AM
July 10th, 2017