(Tribune News Service) A bill pending in the General Assembly would help position Newport News Shipbuilding to handle its share of a new shipbuilding program intended to replace 14 Ohio-class submarines, a key part of the nation's nuclear deterrence strategy.
"It's critically important that we be able to get a piece of the Ohio-class sub replacement program," said Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, the sponsor of HB1068, introduced earlier this month.
It's an attempt, he added, to ensure that the shipyard, Newport News, the region and the state "get as large a share of that program as possible."
The total cost of the program is projected to be roughly $95.8 billion (in fiscal year 2015 dollars), according to a March 2015 Government Accountability Office estimate.
How much of those funds might be spent in Newport News is still up in the air.
Newport News Shipbuilding is one of only two shipyards in the country that build nuclear submarines. The other is Connecticut-based General Dynamics Electric Boat.
While the two yards jointly build Virginia-class attack submarines -- the work is done in modules, split roughly in half -- it's not clear at this point how the work will be divided up on the construction of the Ohio-class replacement vessels.
The two yards submitted a work-sharing plan to the Navy in March and are still awaiting a response.
"I can't go into details, as we're waiting to hear back from the Navy, but I can confirm that the proposal was submitted last March," said Tim Boulay, a spokesman with General Dynamics Electric Boat, in an email.
Together, the two yards have delivered 12 Virginia-class submarines to the Navy, the John Warner being the most recent.
Another nine are in various active stages of construction, said Christie Miller, a spokeswoman with Huntington Ingalls Industries, the parent of Newport News Shipbuilding, in an email.
Jones' bill would provide grants to either Newport News Shipbuilding or the city of Newport News, conditioned on the investment of at least $750 million for new production facilities as well as the creation of at least 1,000 new full-time jobs.
The shipyard or the city could be eligible for up to $46 million in grants, to be paid between 2017 and 2026. The bill is structured the way it is to reflect the fact that the Navy hasn't made its determination yet on how the work will be divided, Jones said.
"It requires a certain level of investment and employment to be able to qualify," he said, adding that there's a need to have the measure in place so that when the decision is made, "we will be able to proceed."
The Ohio-class replacement program is projected to build 12 ballistic-missile submarines, to replace the Navy's current force of 14 Ohio-class vessels, which entered service between 1984 and 1997, according to a Dec. 17 Congressional Research Service report.
The Navy will need 12 new vessels instead of 14 because the mid-life overhauls of the newer vessels won't include nuclear refueling — they'll each have a "life-of-the-ship" nuclear fuel core — requiring less time, according to the report.
Unlike the Navy's other submarines, the Ohio-class submarines are armed with large, long-range missiles that carry multiple nuclear warheads.
Their "basic mission is to remain hidden at sea," the report says, "... so as to deter a nuclear attack on the United States by another country by demonstrating to other countries that the United States has an assured second-strike capability."
The Navy wants to procure the first Ohio-replacement submarine in fiscal year 2021 and "has identified the Ohio replacement program as its top priority program," according to the report.
(c)2016 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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