President Obama released his 2017 defense budget Tuesday, a $582.7 billion plan that affects a number of military and shipbuilding priorities in Hampton Roads.
The defense budget includes initial funding for a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines that is expected to create work at Newport News Shipbuilding. The Navy plans to order the first of the new boats in 2021 to replace its aging Ohio-class subs, which form the undersea portion of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
The budget proposes spending more than $1.9 billion on the Ohio Replacement program across several accounts, covering advance work, plus research and development.
The Newport News shipyard has proposed to share the work on this major project — the Navy's top priority — with General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn. The latter company is expected to be the lead contractor, but the program is important enough that Virginia legislative leaders are backing $46 million in state grants to help Newport News as it pursues the work.
Some in Congress support a separate fund to pay for the new submarines outside the Navy's shipbuilding budget. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, said the proposed budget should fully embrace that idea.
Photos from the construction of the John F. Kennedy, scheduled to be the second in the Ford class of U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
"With work and funding for Ohio Replacement ramping up, I am concerned that we aren't using all the tools in our toolbox to make this submarine construction affordable," he said in a statement.
The budget sets aside $5.2 billion for construction of two Virginia-class submarines. Newport News and Electric Boat build these boats in a teaming agreement.
It would continue to fund work on the second and third Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, the John F. Kennedy and the Enterprise. The Newport News yard is the sole builder of the nuclear-powered ships for the Navy.
In another item of interest to the shipyard, the budget proposes $1.9 billion for the upcoming mid-life overhaul of the USS George Washington and advance purchases for the next ship to undergo modernization work, the USS John C. Stennis.
Overall, the budget proposes a 287-ship Navy for fiscal year 2017. That would include 11 aircraft carriers, a number the Navy will hit when the first-in-class Gerald R. Ford joins the fleet later this year. The Navy's stated goal is 308 ships by 2021.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, objected to the overall scope of the plan, saying it "reduces funds that are critical to meet our core readiness and modernization needs."
Sen. Mark R. Warner lauded the support for the shipbuilding industry, and Obama's investments in cyber-security, which he says are badly needed.
Lessig can be reached by phone at 757-247-7821.
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