As Pentagon officials and lawmakers mull the topline of the fiscal year 2020 defense budget, Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] will be focused on ensuring the Navy’s next generation of nuclear submarines remains sufficiently funded without sacrificing other shipbuilding priorities, the company’s leader said.

The forthcoming Columbia-class of nuclear submarines has been identified as a top service priority, said HII President and CEO Mike Petters in a Dec. 1 interview with Defense Daily in Simi Valley, California. But as officials consider whether to cut $33 billion from next year’s defense budget and lawmakers debate whether to reinstate spending cuts, the concern is whether funding for the submarines will cause “collateral damage” in other shipbuilding accounts, he said.

An artist's rendering of the U.S. Navy's future Columbia-class submarine. (Photo: U.S. Navy )
An artist’s rendering of the U.S. Navy’s future Columbia-class submarine. (Photo: U.S. Navy )

The Navy plans to design and build 12 ballistic missile submarines as part of the Columbia-class to replace its current fleet of 14 Ohio-class ships, and has indicated a desire to procure the first ship in fiscal year 2021, according to an October 2018 report by the Congressional Research Service. 

An April 2018 Government Accountability Office report that surveyed major DoD weapons programs assessed that the Columbia-class submarines would cost about $102 billion in constant FY ‘18 dollars for total procurement costs. Vice Adm. William Merz, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems, recently told reporters that the Navy is considering seeking funding for the program outside of the traditional shipbuilding account (Defense Daily, Nov. 29).

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and likely chairman when the 116th Congress convenes in January, has called for cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal (Defense Daily, Nov. 14). He has focused primarily on paring down the nation’s supply of international continental ballistic missiles and rejecting a proposed low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, and Petters said he is not worried that the Columbia-class ship would be targeted.

The company plans to work closely with lawmakers in both the House and Senate shipbuilding subcommittees to keep new contracts in the forthcoming funding bills, he said. The fiscal year 2018 and 2019 authorization and appropriations bills included funding for aircraft carriers, submarines, amphibious transport docks and destroyers, all Huntington programs, he noted.

“Our big focus right now is to get them all under contract,” he said. The company continues to work with the Defense Department to secure a contract for two new aircraft carriers by the end of the calendar year, which could lead to $2 billion in savings just for Huntington’s portion of work, he noted.

“We’re all hopeful we can get there,” he said.

Huntington is still targeting to launch the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) in the fourth quarter of 2019, Petters said. Delivery is currently scheduled for 2022.

The company is also working to finalize a contract for Block V of the Virginia-class submarines – which is expected to include a guided missile capability under the Virginia Payload Module, Petters said. General Dynamics Electric Boat [GD] and Huntington in 2017 both won long-lead materials contracts for two submarines each in the Block V series.

All but one of the eight Block III Virginia-class submarines – built by HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding and General Dynamics – have been delivered to the Navy, according to the company. The remaining ship, USS Delaware (SSN-791), will be delivered by Newport News Shipbuilding. Block IV deliveries are expected to begin between late 2019 and early 2020, and Huntington is under contract to build four out of the 10 submarines in that block.

The defense-wide funding increases in FY ’18 and ’19 were the “beginning of a recovery” from years of cuts under the 2011 Budget Control Act, but sustained – and even better, increased – budget growth is required to keep the momentum going, Petters said.

“If instead … we go back to where we were in ‘17, then I think that will send a message too and it would not be a good message,” he added.