The co-chairs of the Congressional Submarine Caucus and 33 other House members released a letter to the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Wednesday urging the fiscal year (FY) 2018 appropriations bill increase submarine funding to match levels in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report.

Increasing funding for Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs) in line with the NDAA will “send a clear signal of support” to fleet commanders and the industrial base by guaranteeing the final authorization “provides as robust an investment possible in our undersea fleet,” the letter said.

U.S. Navy Virginia-class Submarine. Photo: HII
U.S. Navy Virginia-class Submarine. Photo: HII

The topline authors include Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va), Ranking Member Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Ct.), and Rep. James Langevin (D-RI.). All three co-chair the Submarine Caucus. Wittman’s district is home to submarine builder Huntington Ingalls Industries‘ [HII] Newport News Shipbuilding while Courtney’s district is home to the other submarine shipbuilder, General Dynamics [GD] Electric Boat. GD builds parts of the submarines in Langevin’s Rhode Island district.

The president’s 2018 budget request continues a two-per-year build rate, which would keep the Navy from reaching 66 submarines until 2048.

The 2018 NDAA conference report included authorized an additional $698 million over the request for a third submarine in 2020, economic order quantity funding, and authorities to prepare the industrial base for a future ramp up in construction. It also included multiyear procurement authority to acquire up to 13 submarines in the Block V contract, an increase compared to the ten requested for the next block contract (Defense Daily, Nov. 8, 2017).

The authors noted both the Senate and House appropriations bills increased submarine construction funds; the House matched the NDAA’s multi-year procurement authority for up to 13 submarines in Block V while the Senate included extra funding for the industrial base (Defense Daily, Nov. 27, 2017).

The letter, dated Dec. 21, noted the Navy’s Dec. 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA) should maintain a force of at least 66 attack submarines (SSNs), an increase over the previous requirement of 48 (Defense Daily, Dec. 16).

“However, with the retirement of Los Angeles-class submarines at a faster rate than Virginia-class construction, the SSN force will drop to a low of just 41 submarines, more than one-third below the requirement to defend America’s national security interests around the globe,” the letter warned.

 “With demand for undersea capabilities growing and the shortfall in the fleet approaching fast, it is clear that Congress must ensure that production meets the needs of our combatant commanders.”

The authors said they think the submarine industrial base has enough extra capacity to increase Virginia­-class production, ramp up work on the new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), and boost the supplier network.

The letter requested that the funding also contain flexibility for the Navy and industrial base to apportion funding where it can provide the most benefit to the construction schedule. Supplier development has to be funded now because of the long-lead times to add sustained capacity in the industrial base and qualify new suppliers to conduct complex work, they said.

“Providing flexibility in how additional funds could be used would help maintain submarine construction schedules and reduce cost, while also helping the Navy maintain its operational submarine requirements.”