The leaders of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower subcommittee today repeated their push for the Navy to buy three attack submarines per year and increase its share of the Defense Department budget.
During a Hudson Institute event Friday, Seapower subcommittee chairman Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) said his initial conversations with the Biden administration make him optimistic they understand the overall importance of the Indo-Pacific region and managing China.
“My conversations with the new administration – I’ve had some with the new Secretary of State Tony Blinken who, with no prompting, volunteered that he believes that the Indo-Pacific region is the number one sort of foreign policy challenge for the U.S. right now,” Courtney said.
He also said in talking with the new Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks she also, unprompted, said she is aware the importance of that region in her portfolio.
Courtney noted he viewed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley’s speech during a December event as “quite striking” by advocating for biasing future DoD resources toward sea, air and space platforms over land warfare (Defense Daily, Dec. 4).
He characterized Milley as essentially saying “we’ve got to shift the pie chart within the Pentagon, so we’re all watching to see when the budget comes over.”
The chairman confirmed Congress is expecting the FY 2022 budget request to be sent over late, in April or early May given delayed transition efforts before the Biden administration inauguration in January.
Courtney said their committee will “do everything we can to make sure it’s a good place setter for this Congress.”
Also speaking during the event, ranking member Rob Wittman (R-Va.) underscored the importance of the Navy requesting three Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs) to both make up for retiring vessels in future years and to match China’s increasing naval forces.
Wittman said it is important for the three submarines to be requested in the FY ’22 budget request because it is “extraordinarily difficult to add things to the president’s budget.”
He was optimistic at the chances of the administration including a third attack submarine in the next budget, saying “I think the glass is half full” with a broader realization of the importance of a naval presence for the military threats the U.S. faces.
When asked about China continuing to build new aircraft carriers, Courtney said that “most people would agree the best countermeasure is attack submarines.”
He said the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan, released in December, planned to move to building three attack submarines per year and is encouraging because it is “something Rob and I have been yelling from the rooftops.”
However, given how the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine is now officially starting full construction in 2021 along with two attack submarines per year, Courtney said the government must do more work on increasing the industrial base capability.
“Frankly we’re going to need more facilities if we’re really going to get serious about going for three per year on a regular basis.”
Courtney said he is “very bullish” on the Navy investing more funds in bolstering the industrial base to that effect and the government must “keep performance of the shipyards at uppermost.”
Wittman also said he supports the Navy’s plans to extend the service lives of some Los Angeles-class attack submarines to maintain a larger submarine force but stressed the Navy has to start developing the next-generation of attack submarines beyond Virginia-class vessels.
He said planning the next attack submarines is “critically important” to balance cost with capability.
“We went through the issue with Seawolf in seeing a very fast and effective submarine, but very expensive per copy. So the question is what do we need in the next generation submarine that has the right extension of capability, that gives us that continued undersea strike advantage, but how do we do that at a price tag that allows us to build the number of platforms that we need? Those are going to be incredibly important,” Wittman said.
The two submarine builders for the Navy are General Dynamics’ Electric Boat [GD] based in Courtney’s district in Groton, Conn., and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding [HII] in Wittman’s state.