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Chairman Courtney Reaction to Secretary Esper’s Public Comments on Submarine Shipbuilding

October 6, 2020
Press Release

NORWICH, CT – Today, Congressman Joe Courtney, Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, issued the following statement regarding Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper’s comments on submarine shipbuilding during a preview of future Navy Force Structure Plan—a plan that Congress has not yet received.

“Today, Secretary Esper previewed a long-overdue force structure plan that begs for more detail and explanation,” said Chairman Courtney. “Notably, the Secretary shared the predictable outcome of these months of review and study—that we need a bigger and more capable submarine force. After four long years of stonewalling Congress’s commitment to enlarging our nation’s submarine fleet—including submitting a budget this year that proposed a 19% cut to the submarine budget and eliminated a planned Virginia class submarine—the Trump administration today acknowledged what has long been blindingly obvious: our undersea fleet is dangerously small.”

“If Secretary Esper is serious about boosting production, he could direct his department to support the House-passed authorization and funding levels for a second Virginia-class submarine in 2021 that reverses the Administration’s anemic shipbuilding budget in the House-Senate conference process happening right now,” Courtney added.

Background on Chairman Courtney’s efforts on shipbuilding this year:

  • In 2018, Courtney led a bipartisan push to increase funding to expand Virginia class submarine production to three a year – a proposal that the Department of Defense actively opposed during debate in the House and helped to defeat.
  • In February, the Administration released their FY21 budget, which requested $19.9 billion for just 8 ships – $3.6 billion, or 15%, less than was planned in the FY20 budget and $4.1 billion, or 17%, less than the $24 billion approved by Congress for 2020. Of the 8 ships requested in 2021, six were considered combatant vessels and two were support/auxiliaries. Additionally, the original budget request plans procurement of 44 ships between 2021 and 2025, a nearly 20 percent reduction from the 54 that were planned over this period previously. Included in the President’s budget request was the elimination of one Virginia class attack submarine, breaking the sustainable two-a-year build rate needed for our national security. 
  • Navy leadership listed the restoration of a fully funded second FY21 Virginia-class submarine as its top unfunded budget priority this fiscal year. During hearings this year, Navy officials confirmed to Courtney that there is industrial base capacity to support the second submarine, that doing so reduces risk in Columbia construction, and that not restoring the submarine in 2021 will make it challenging to replace that submarine in a future year. Since 2018, Congress has allocated $1.1 billion for the second submarine. 
  • In March, Courtney led a letter with 111 other Members of Congress urging the House Appropriations Committee to support restoration of the second submarine. The 112 members that joined this request represent 32 states, over 14,000 suppliers, and over $10 billion in manufacturing and support activity in the submarine supply chain. The House passed its version of the FY21 NDAA, which included the missing Virginia class submarine, in July by a vote of 295-125. One week later, the House voted to pass a Defense Appropriations bill that backed the authorization for the second Virginia class submarine with full funding. 
  • Courtney championed the creation of the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund (NSBDF) in 2015 to finance the construction of the Columbia-class by providing the Department flexibility and authority to allocate funds from across the budget into this account to elevate the importance of the Columbia program as critical to our national security. The FY16 NDAA provided additional authorities within the NSBDF including incremental funding, advanced procurement, Economic Order Quantity (EOQ), and clarified that reprogramming authority provided in the creation of the fund in the year previous extended to the entire Department, not just the Navy. 
  • Courtney wrote to Secretary of Defense Esper and then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly in January 2020 to draw their attention to the unique capabilities of the NSBDF in providing the Department the space and authority to allocate funds from across the budget into this account to expand and modernize the fleet.