President Donald Trump’s 2021 budget request cuts from two to one the number of Virginia-class submarines that would be funded in next year’s budget.
General Dynamic’s Electric Boat, in partnership with Huntington-Ingalls’ Newport News Shipbuilding, has for more than a decade built two submarines a year, but the president’s budget, released Monday, only includes $4.6 billion for one Virginia-class boat.
That decision was immediately slammed by proponents of the Virginia-class program.
“As chair of the (Armed Services) Seapower Subcommittee, I can say with complete certainty that, like so much of the rest of the president’s budget, it is dead on arrival,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
The reduction in the number of submarines is a result of the Navy’s plan to reduce its shipbuilding budget by $4 billion from what it requested in 2020.
That reduction in the budget is part of the Navy’s plan to dial back the number of ships it wants to build both next year and in the coming five years. According to a budget overview, the Navy is calling for the acquisition of 44 ships through 2025 instead of the 55 the Navy projected last year.
Courtney said “this weak, pathetic request for eight ships – of which two are tugboats” does not square with the Navy’s long-term defense plan, which calls for a 355-ship fleet.
“It is the worst-kept secret in Washington that last-minute maneuvering led to the shipbuilding budget being robbed to pay for other pet projects by the Office of Management and Budget,” Courtney said. “Growing the fleet – and funding the investments necessary – is either a priority for the Administration or it’s not. Unfortunately, the Defense Department leadership was unable to withstand the pressure to use the shipbuilding account as a piggy bank …”
In budget documents, the Navy said it has enough ships in the pipeline and doesn’t need any more added next year.
Because of that pipeline, the cutback next year in Virginia-class subs would not be felt at Electric Boat shipyards for several years. But proponents of submarine construction, like Courtney, have been pressing for a construction rate of more than, not fewer, submarines each year.
Courtney said that “year after year” Congress has heard from Navy officials and others about the growing demand for submarine capabilities as countries like China and Russia step up their undersea activity.
“They have urgently warned us that we need more submarine construction, not less, in order to mitigate the nearly 20 percent reduction in the fleet we presently face within this decade,” Courtney said. “That’s why we worked so hard to achieve and sustain the two-a-year build rate since 2011. Deviating from that plan now makes no sense, and I am confident we will address this incoherent decision in the 2021 defense bill.”
Congress has to approve the 2021 federal budget and usually makes changes to a president’s request.
But proponents of sub construction in Congress will have to compete with fellow lawmakers whose interests are in other types of shipbuilding, including frigates and Arleigh Burke DDG-51 destroyers built in Maine by General Dynamics.
In contrast to the proposed cutbacks in shipbuilding programs, the Pentagon’s $705 billion budget proposal would boost nuclear weapons funding and increase production of nuclear-capable F-35 jets, whose engines are built by Pratt & Whitney.