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Funding for a second submarine could boost Connecticut’s economy, but bills differ

The Virginia-class attack submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) South Dakota (SSN 790) transits the Thames River at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn., in January 2019.

MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 1ST CLASS STEVEN HOSKINS/U.S. NAVY

By STEPHEN SINGER | The Hartford Courant | Published: July 3, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — As Congress shapes next year’s military budget, House and Senate versions differ on a big item important to Connecticut: funding for an additional Virginia-class submarine that President Donald Trump cut from his proposed budget in February.

The House Armed Services Committee early Thursday voted 56-0 to approve legislation that funds a second submarine next year. Billions more for other defense programs in Connecticut — helicopters made by Sikorsky and fighter jet engines made by Pratt & Whitney — are included.

The measure, part of drawn out congressional budget procedures authorizing Pentagon spending, approved $6.8 billion for the Virginia-class submarine program, an increase of $2.6 billion over a request by Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., to restore a second submarine in 2021, the congressman said.

The House is set to vote on the bill in mid-July, he said. The Senate is debating its own measure, which calls for $472 million for submarine construction through 2023.

A committee of senators and representatives must work out differences in the two versions and send legislation that emerges to Trump for his signature.

“We’re going to pound the table and pummel our colleagues for the full amount,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Courtney, chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee that steers legislation related to the Navy and Marine Corps, said the Navy advised Congress that the fleet would shrink without the additional submarine.

Adding the Virginia-class submarine also is important to ensure uninterrupted construction extending to the next-generation Columbia-class submarine. The Navy on June 22 announced a contract award of $9.5 billion to begin building two Columbia-class submarines. Funding must be approved by Congress.

The legislation passed out of the Armed Services Committee to the House authorized $4 billion to begin construction of the Columbia-class submarine. The Senate version tops that by $175 million, Blumenthal said.

Manufacturers and others in eastern Connecticut are training and placing workers at Electric Boat and its extensive supply base of smaller manufacturers. An interruption in submarine construction could hinder those efforts.

“If you want to make sure the Columbia glide path is stable you’ve got to fund the Virginia,” said Courtney, whose district includes the Groton shipyard of General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said manufacturers are hiring in anticipation of the Columbia. He believes Congress ultimately will pick the House bill that fully funds the Virginia because it’s “more firm in its position than the Senate.”

“I can see the House winning the debate because it has more energy behind it,” Clark said.

Demand for submarines is rising in response to China, which is active in the South China Sea, and Russian submarine movements in the Atlantic Ocean. “It’s all tied to what’s happening in the Pacific and the Atlantic,” Courtney said.

He told colleagues at a recent Armed Services Committee meeting that its work “reverses one of the most confounding elements of this year’s budget: the elimination of a Virginia-class submarine which would disrupt the two-a-year build rate for the first time in a decade.”

Blumenthal said the Navy has supported the additional Virgini-class submarine “and the president has been AWOL on it.”

The House Armed Services also authorizes nearly $1 billion for 60 Black Hawk helicopters, $1 billion for seven Marine heavy-lift helicopters and $973 million for 16 combat search and rescue helicopters built by Sikorsky.

And $799 million is targeted for 79 F-35 fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and outfitted with engines manufactured by Pratt & Whitney. Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at Teal Group, said lawmakers are “not eager to throw more cash in the logjam,” referring to production problems worsened by the coronavirus.

Still, he said defense spending is often seen as “shovel-ready projects” popular with constituents.

©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
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