The House’s FY ’19 defense appropriations bill passed Thursday sunk an attempt by House Armed Sevices Seapower subcommittee leaders to start funding additional submarines.

Reps. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), chairman and ranking member of the seapower subcommittee, pushed an amendment that would have trimmed other Navy accounts to add $1 billion for advanced procurement funding to help the service prepare to build additional Virginia-class submarines (SSNs) in FY ’22 and 23.

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

The House voted down the amendment by a vote of 144-267 before ultimately passing the bill on Thursday.

The Navy is planning to build two SSNs each year but previously said the industrial base can build a third in each year. The House Armed Services Committee’s authorization bill approved long-lead time material for these two additional submarines (Defense Daily, April 26).

The submarines are built by General Dynamics Electric Boat [GD]  in Connecticut and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.

Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said at a March hearing of Wittman’s committee that the Navy and industrial base could build more than the 10 submarines planned for in the FY’ 19 Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) “if in fact the resources are there” (Defense Daily, March 21).

Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Submarines, agreed and said the most important thing to fund the additional submarines would be sending an early signal leveraging economic order quantity buys for 12 rather than 10 submarines, to add boats in the FY ‘22 and ’23 years. “That signal for funding to the supplier base would be critically important,” he said.

However, Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan wrote a letter to the House Appropriations Committee opposing the amendment.

“Combined with the out-year cost of finishing the incrementally funded submarines, the department would be required to cut over $6 billion from multiple programs, such as reducing the buys of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, oilers and fast frigates,” he wrote.

Wittman and Courtney disagreed in a letter to House Appropriations defense subcommittee chair Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas). They argued the $6 billion figure is inaccurate. They said they hoped their provision’s funding would be used to reach the three-submarine build rate in 2022 and 2023 but “it is our understanding that if the Navy does not pursue the option of additional submarines above the ten-boat baseline, those materials will be absorbed into the submarines already programmed into the budget.”

“Our amendment does not lock in Congress, or the Department, into any course of action. It does, however, provide options not currently available under the President’s budget request,” they added.

They also argued the current Navy plans will lower the attack submarine fleet from 52 to 42 boats in a decade, one third under requirements in the latest Force Structure Assessment (FSA). Otherwise, the Navy will only reach the goal of 66 attack submarines in 2048, Wittman and Courtney said.

However, Granger said the amendment would unacceptably cut funding and change schedules from other programs like the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) replacing the Ohio-class boat.

“Not only does this amendment cut $1 billion from vital programs in FY ‘19, it will leave future Congresses with at least a $6 billion shortfall. That is not the appropriate way to spend our taxpayers’ dollars.”

“Who will pay for these subs and where will they find the money? Cutting $1 billion out of critically important programs so the Navy can have options in future negotiations of additional submarines is also irresponsible,” she added.