U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Huntington Ingalls Industries by Chris Oxley/Released
The Virginia-class attack submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) John Warner (SSN 785) conducts sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Huntington Ingalls Industries by Chris Oxley/Released)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney urged the Navy on Tuesday to find ways beyond what is already in its budgeted plans to speed construction of the U.S. submarine fleet so that it can achieve the 66-boat level called for in its recently released long-term Force Structure Assessment.

“While the budget reflects a sustained two-a-year construction rate for Virginia class submarines, at this rate the force would not achieve the 66-boat level that was called for in the force structure assessment until 2048 — 30 years from now,” Courtney said. “So we’ve got to do better and move faster.”

Courtney, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, made the remark during the panel’s hearing Tuesday on the Navy’s Fiscal 2019 budget request. He has long advocated for a three-a-year submarine build, which would directly benefit Electric Boat in his district.

Courtney noted that Congress “demonstrated its strong support for expanding the attack submarine production line” by authorizing the Navy to go beyond building two submarines a year within the next five-year block of contracting.

“I urge the Navy to take advantage of this opportunity, and others like it that provide a great opportunity in the years ahead to add to the plan presented to us here today.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy James Geurts, who appeared before the subcommittee, said he views the budget proposal (which now calls for 10 submarines over five years) as “a starting point” that could be increased in the future.

“As we get more efficient building ships it should create more opportunities as we go forward. We look at it as a starting point. It will continue to move and adapt as we try and drive out cost on the back end of things,” he said.

In his written testimony, Geurts offered more details on the Fiscal 2019 budget for the submarine fleet:

The long-term strategy for our attack submarines and future payload submarine is the Tactical Submarine Evolution Plan, or TESP, which features the Virginia Class submarine. The Virginia Class program is continuing to deliver submarines within budget and with increased capability in each block. The Navy will be building on past success by awarding a five-year procurement contract for 10 ships in Fiscal 2019. This represents an increase from the Fiscal 2018 budget request of one submarine in Fiscal 2021.

The Columbia Class program, he said, is on track to start construction in October 2020 and deliver to pace the retirement of our current ballistic missile submarines, deploying for its first patrol in Fiscal 2031.

In September 2017, the Navy awarded General Dynamics Electric Boat a $5.1 billion contract for the design completion, technology development, and prototype manufacturing for the Columbia Class program. The contract leverages the authorities contained within the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund and incentivizes construction readiness, affordability and supplier base capability and capacity.

Watch the hearing below:

YouTube video