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Senate panel balks at full funding of second Virginia-class submarine, key for Connecticut

Hundreds gather as General Dynamics Electric Boat hosts the Dec. 3 christening ceremony in Groton, Conn., for the USS Colorado, the 15th in the Virginia class of attack submarines, each costing $2.7 billion.

TIM COOK, THE DAY/TNS

By STEPHEN SINGER | Hartford Courant | Published: November 10, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — The fate of construction of a second Virginia-class submarine next year — an important project that would provide a boost to Connecticut’s economy — was thrown into doubt Tuesday as a U.S. Senate subcommittee only partially funded the nuclear sub, sending the program into negotiations with the U.S. House of Representatives.

President Donald Trump proposed in his budget in February $4.2 billion for the Virginia, which would fund just one submarine in 2021. The administration defended the budget as reflecting an assumption that overseas operations will require less funding “as the president works to end endless wars.”

Trump’s 2021 budget request breaks the two-per-year build rate that has been in place since 2011. Since 2018, Congress has allocated $1.1 billion for the second submarine, including an additional $200 million last year to support the sustained two-per-year rate of construction. The submarines are built at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton and Quonset PointRhode Island and at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.

Senate Appropriations subcommittee approved $472 million more than Trump’s request, for a total of $4.6 billion for long lead materials for a future additional submarine. The House of Representatives in July approved defense spending that includes $6.8 billion.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D- 2nd District., has said Trump’s plan contradicts the Navy’s 2016 “force structure assessment” calling for 355 ships, including 66 attack submarine.

“Over the last 10 years, sworn testimony before the Congress from combatant commanders, outside defense experts and Navy leadership has been unanimous — the Navy needs more submarines,” said Courtney, whose district includes the Groton shipyard. “The Trump Administration’s last-minute and uninformed decision to remove a second 2021 Virginia class submarine from the budget this year capsized the two-per-year program of record for Virginia submarines that has been supported by Congress since 2011.”

Courtney, chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee, said the Senate plan does not fix the problem. Partial funding in 2021 is “unworkable given the shipyard’s schedules in future years for the Virginia and Columbia programs.”

He said he will press the “urgency of this issue” as House and Senate negotiators hammer out a defense spending bill with full funding for the second Virginia submarine.

The U.S. Navy announced last week a $9.5 billion contract for construction of the first two Columbia submarines, the next-generation nuclear ships being built by General Dynamics Electric Boat at Groton and Quonset PointRhode Island.

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