The House Appropriations Committee FY 2020 defense appropriations bill moves hundreds of millions of dollars from funding for a third Virginia-class submarine to conduct maintenance work on three older boats.

The Navy’s budget requested $7.2 billion to build three new attack submarines, with one being bought in FY ’23. However, the House panel recommended giving the Navy only $4 billion to build two new attack submarines. The remaining $3 million is then shifted to advanced procurement for Virginia boats and maintenance work on the long-delayed Los Angeles-class USS Boise (SSN-764), USS Hartford (SSN-768), and USS Columbus (SSN-762).

USS Boise (SSN-764) arrives at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding division to begin its extended engineering overhaul. (Photo: HII)

Specifically, the House Appropriations Committee moved $1.5 billion to the requested $2.8 billion in Virginia advanced procurement funds, totaling $3.2 billion; $290 million for Boise maintenance; $306 million for Hartford maintenance; and $57 million for Columbus work.

The panel also took away $814 million from the Virginia program because it is “early to need.”

The defense appropriations bill report noted the “Committee is disappointed that the Chief of Naval Operations requested an additional $814,000,000 on the Navy’s fiscal year 2020 unfunded priority list for the Ship Depot Maintenance account.” The Navy requested $10.4 billion for ship depot maintenance in FY ’20, $653 million over the FY ’19 enacted level of $9.8 billion.

The report cited a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that said delays on vessel maintenance reached up to 19,000 days. The panel argued the delays increase the cost of repairs as the vessels wait for their spots at public and private shipyards.

The December GAO study found that even while the Navy worked to decrease its surface and submarine maintenance backlog, that backlog continued to grow in 2018 (Defense Daily, Dec. 13, 2018).

The report said the committee “appreciates and supports the need for new attack submarines, but believes that the Navy must also address repairs of its current fleet, with these three submarines receiving priority attention. In particular, the Committee believes the USS Boise must receive immediate attention and resources, given that it lost its dive certification in 2017 and has been effectively out of operation for two years.”

The Boise was first scheduled to enter the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for extended maintenance in 2013.

In December, the Boise was scheduled to finally start its maintenance work early this year, four years late, at the Huntington Ingalls Industries’ [HII] Newport News shipyard. However, a Naval Sea Systems Command spokesperson told Defense Daily the work was delayed from January to May due to the USS Helena’s (SSN-725) ongoing maintenance availability going longer than planned at the dry dock needed for Boise.

The spokesperson noted the delayed induction, as well as a lack of FY ’19 funding, forced the Navy to delay Boise maintenance to FY ’20. The overhaul work is scheduled to take 25 months after the work begins, including certifying the ship for unrestricted operations.

The committee found these kinds of persistent maintenance delays “completely unacceptable.”

“It is imperative the Navy improve its scheduling and budgeting for these activities to reduce the length of time that ships and submarines remain unable to deploy and to reduce the costs associated with lengthy delays in the maintenance process,” the report added.

The committee addresses this, in part, by transferring $652 million from shipbuilding and conversion Virginia accounts to the operation and maintenance budget for the Boise, Hartford, and Columbus.

The bill also directs the Secretary of the Navy to, in the FY ’21 Navy budget request, provide the names and estimated costs of ships and submarines scheduled for maintenance that correspond to the FY ’21 budget request for ship depot maintenance. This covers both base and overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding requests.