A bipartisan group of over 100 lawmakers pushed House appropriators in a letter to fund a second Virginia-class submarine in the fiscal year 2021 defense budget bill.

Led by the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.) as well as Rep James Langevin (D-R.I.), the letter has a total of 112 signatures. The signatories represent 32 states and over 14,000 submarine supply chain organization areas, a spokesman for Courtney told Defense Daily.

The Virginia-class attack submarine USS North Carolina (SSN-777). (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The letter, dated March 16, noted the members are “deeply concerned with the proposal to procure just one Virginia-class submarine in the President’s proposed FY 2021 budget” after testimony in hearings explaining increasing competitive undersea activity from Russia and China.

The FY ’21 budget request includes only one attack submarine compared to FY ’20 plans to buy two in 2021 (Defense Daily, Feb. Feb. 10).

The letter notes the current fleet is on track to decline from 52 current attack submarines to 42 in 2027, almost 20 percent lower.

In recent months, lawmakers attacked the budget request and pushed for the full 10-submarine buy in the $22.2 billion Block V Virginia-class multi-year procurement contract. That contract planned on nine vessels but included an option for a 10th that would raise the program cost to over $24 billion (Defense Daily, Dec. 2).

After the contract was released, several lawmakers representing submarine shipyard construction states and districts pushed for the 10th submarine to be fully funded (Defense Daily, Dec. 3).

James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, in December told reporters the 10th boat was made optional, in part, to incentivize on-time production of the Virginias and balance the Columbia nuclear missile submarine work staying on schedule.

“That’s kind of ultimately why we put one of the boats as an option price, so that we could – as performance warrants, as we see it we can add a 10th boat in there. If not, we can back off a little to make sure Columbia’s successful,” Geurts said.

The signatories emphasized the need to maintain a two-per-year build rate of Virginia-class submarine and note Congress previously allocated over $1.1 billion to support a second FY ’21 boat, including $200 million “specifically authorized and appropriated last year on a bipartisan basis to support sustainment of the two-a-year build rate in FY 2021.”

The letter underscored their point by noting the Navy’s top unfunded requirement sent to Congress was restoring the second FY ’21 Virginia-class submarine.

The letter also noted 300 contracts have already been awarded to suppliers in the industrial base to support the second Virginia-class submarine taken out of the FY ’21 budget.

“The proposal to request one attack submarine is contrary to the National Defense Strategy, the needs of our combatant commanders, and a decade of Congressional action in support of a steady two-a-year build rate to support our national security and ensure stability in the industrial base,” the signatories wrote.

The letter included 72 Democrats and 40 Republicans total and had 44 new signatories compared to a similar letter last year.