A House lawmaker who recently fought off an attempt to kill a requirement that the Navy build nuclear-powered surface ships said he does not know if such vessels will ever emerge under current budget constraints.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), a senior House Armed Services Committee (HASC) member, said in an interview he stands firmly behind the nuclear-powered mandate that he and former Democratic congressman Gene Taylor from Mississippi helped craft in 2008 and 2009. Taylor, who lost his reelection bid in 2010, even visited Capitol Hill to talk his former HASC colleagues out of killing the nuclear provision this spring.

Still, Bartlett acknowledged the mandate for nuclear-powered surface combatants, which the Navy has resisted, may not result in any such vessels because of their high cost.

“The Navy tells me privately that they would love to have nuclear-powered ships but it just costs too much up front,” Bartlett said. “They will tell you lifecycle wise it’s probably cheaper to do nuclear.” Such a calculation changes with the price of fuel, the Navy has said.

Bartlett said he does not know how the Navy could pull off the construction of such vessels without “some semblance of capital budgets,” or multi-year funding plans that the Pentagon does not use.

Bartlett and Taylor, as former heads of the HASC’s Seapower subcommittee, helped add language to the fiscal year 2008 and 2009 defense authorization acts requiring combatant vessels of the strike forces of the Navy have nuclear-power systems. They were outspoken in their warnings about fossil-fuel-powered ships being vulnerable to attack, a situation they argued bolsters the argument in favor of nuclear combatants.

“All they have to do to shut us down in take out a few oilers,” Bartlett reiterated last week.

The HASC’s Seapower subcommittee initially called for killing the nuclear-ship requirement when it marked up its portion of the FY ’13 defense authorization bill on April 26. That prompted Bartlett and Taylor to push back on the change. When the HASC marked up the legislation on May 9, current Seapower subcommittee Chairman Todd Akin (R-Mo.) offered a successful, compromise amendment that retains the nuclear mandate. The bill, which the full House passed May 18, now says the Navy can opt out of the nuclear requirement if a cost-benefit analysis shows “it would not be practical for the Navy to design the class of ships with an integrated nuclear power system.”

“I think what we did to tweak it got back to a somewhat more rational position,” Bartlett said.