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Courtney Continues to Hear Testimony From Top DOD Officials and Navy Brass About the Vital Need for Sustained Submarine Production

March 22, 2016
Press Release
Seven top officials over the past several weeks have offered powerful support for sustained growth of the undersea fleet in the face of growing international concerns

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) continued his questioning of top Department of Defense (DOD) officials and U.S. Navy leadership about the need for sustained attack submarine production to confront growing international threats during a morning hearing with Secretary of Defense Ash Cater.

Over the last several weeks, Courtney has heard from a range of witnesses about the growing demand on our submarine forces, the need to reevaluate the current force structure requirement for attack submarines, and urgency of sustaining the current two a year production rate of Virginia Class Submarines. As Courtney heard from the witnesses over the last two months, the submarine force is strained to meet demand for its capabilities at the current force level today, would be severely challenged to do so as the force level dips in the future, and that one of the most impactful actions that can be taken in the near term is to sustain the build rate on Virginia Class Submarines at two a year for as long as possible.  

As Ranking Member of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, Courtney is utilizing this testimony to ensure that the Navy has the resources and authorities it needs to sustain the two a year attack submarine production rate into the next five year block contract (2019-2023), and beyond, to meet the urgent and growing demand for enhanced undersea capabilities.

Retired Admiral Jim Stavridis tells Courtney that Russian submarine activity is “probably 70 to 80 percent of what we saw during Cold War times.” (Feb 10, 2016)


“Admiral Stavridis, in your written statement you mention that Russian submarine activity has risen to a level not seen since the Cold War days. Could you elaborate on that?”


“Sure. If you look back at the Cold War, we saw, if you will, the -- "The Hunt for Red October." We saw vast armadas of undersea forces playing cat-and-mouse games throughout the Arctic, through the Mediterranean, through the Greenland-Iceland-U.K. gap in particular, as well as peripheral kinds of encounters, both under the ice and at the very bottom of the pole, as well.

So that diminished significantly as we came out of the Cold War. Now I would say we're back up to a level of activity that I would say is probably 70 to 80 percent of what we saw during Cold War times, and that implies more patrols coming closer to the United States, more probing kinds of activities.

…In terms of the Russian fleet, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, it -- it's not a huge fleet; it's 270-ish (ph) kind of ships. But its submarine force in particular is extremely high-tech and extremely capable and is a real instrument that is being used most aggressively at this point.

If we look at the building programs, what's on the ways (ph) and what the Russians communicate to us about what they're going to build, they're going to increase the conventional surface force as well quite significantly. So we're seeing robust activity, particularly in the subsurface venue. And it -- it's -- it's less about the platform and more about the uses to which they're being put, which again are much more aggressive than we've seen really in a decade.”

Pacific Commander tells Courtney that he “suffers a shortage of submarines today” and that his “requirements are not being met.” He added that this ability to keep opposing submarine at risk “becomes a concern to me” as force levels drop.” (Feb 24, 2016)


“Earlier you mentioned the fact that we have a shortage of submarines in Asia-Pacific -- again, today we're operating within an attack sub Fleet of about 52, even with the two-year build rate that we started in 2011, that's gonna continue to drop -- at this point, based on the ship-building plan that was submitted last week, to 41. Can you talk about what that will do to future commands in terms of the challenges that you are already facing with a larger fleet size?”


“Sure, so PACOM suffers a shortage of summaries today. My requirements are not being met. As or not the requirements (inaudible), so we have a summary force of about 52 attack submarines and all COCOM's need them for all there are reasons and when you add up all the requirements, it exceeds the ability of the Navy to provide submarines forward when consider a lot of those are in maintenance and a lot of other things.

I worry that we're gonna go down to 41 because as we go down to the low 40s, China is gonna increase their submarine force, even as they are today. And then Russia, which has the most capable submarine force in the world next to ours, they're moving their generation SSBNs, simplistic missile submarines to the Pacific, so the (inaudible) class, SSBNs got there at the end of last year and that is just the beginning.

And then China meanwhile has their JIN, JIN-class SSBNs that they're bringing on line and we're seeing them now. I feel that I must be able to keep those submarines at risk and I am able to do so today but as we go down in numbers that becomes a concern to me.”

Navy Shipbuilding Chief tells Courtney “we have a compelling need for additional attack submarines” and working to add a second submarine in 2021 to mitigate the impending submarine force structure shortfall (Feb 25, 2016)


“… I think all of us appreciate the fact that you say to -- that's the Navy's intention is to -- is to really not slip from that two sub a year build rate that we, you know, scratched and clawed so hard for starting in 2011. But -- but, frankly, it's not about us, it's really about what the combatant commanders told us in the last two days about the critical need for -- for as many undersea platforms as they could possibly acquire.

And so, I guess, you know, maybe you could talk for a little minute about how you plan to find, you know, the authorities, the savings so that we can again protect that build rate, which our combatant commanders desperately need.”


“Yes, Sir. This -- first, it's -- you start with the requirement. As has been discussed, we have a compelling need for additional attack submarines. The -- today, at 52 boats, requirement of 48, we hit a valley of 41 boats in the 2030's. We start falling below the line in the late 2020's. So, we -- that valley exist because of years that we didn't build any submarines and a long period of building one submarine a year.

We got up to two boats a year, starting 2011. Everyone has witnessed the improved performance through learning curve, through economic order, quantity, everything that has come together on the Virginia program to drive cost in the right direction. And now those boats are delivering two per year, ahead of schedule, under budget, and they're out there performing that they are our leading edge.

When the Ohio replacement starts construction, our long-term plan has one Virginia a year and one Ohio a year in those years. We still continue with two boats per year, but one of those is going to be a -- be the Ohio replacement. That -- that helps to contribute to the shortfall in submarines, frankly.

And the first time we hit that's going to be in 2021, so we'll be at two boats per year for a 10-year period and we're going to dip back down to one, come back up to two, and then we're going to dip back down to one as a -- as we build Ohio replacements, and we'll be at one a year for a good while. That's not good for the nation.

So, that -- that has been the long-term plan. It is as much about affordability as anything else because of the significant investment that the Ohio replacement is going to require. But as we sit here today with the 2017 budget being submitted and we're looking ahead to 2021, we're looking at that shortfall in the out years, we've got to do something different. We have to find an alternative to try to stave-off that shortfall.

So, last year and the year prior working with Congress, we had -- we've had a discussion about the types of authorities and the way that we would design and build the Ohio replacement to drive affordability against the program, and to balance the industrial base. So we're looking at that now. We've got the design technical baseline done. We've got the build plan that we worked out with industry. We're going into the details.

And as we do this, we're trying to identify -- can we generate savings in what we build the Ohio replacement to help to fund and finance that additional submarine in 2021? It's not a part of the program of record. But if we don't work hard today, we'll miss the opportunity entirely. And the most important vote in terms of trying to mitigate the impact associated with that shortfall. Is the 2021 boat, that second Virginia in that year, if we missed that opportunity, we will not be able to regain that later?

So we're working today. It's not a part of the program of record. That's why it says up to. But we are working today, and we -- we hope and expect that you work with us to determine how can we keep two Virginias per year proceeding within all the fiscal constraints and within the limitations of the industrial base to address this compelling requirement for the nation.”

European Commander, General Phillip Breedlove tells Courtney we are playing “zone defense” in the North Atlantic, needs more submarines (Feb 25, 2016).


“Admiral Stavridis when he was here a couple weeks ago talked about the fact that the undersea realm is getting much busier and said highest level of activity since the Cold War. Do we have enough assets in terms of naval resources? Submarines, anti-submarine, surface ships in terms of the European command to address that issue?”


“So sir, I'm glad you asked that in the context of the European command. I wouldn't want to try to advise -- the CNO's business on numbers but these undersea assets are very highly sought after asset. I'll just factually say I do not get what I've ask for and what that means is that in the North Sea in the vicinity what we call the Big Gap -- Greenland, Iceland, U.K. gap area -- where all of the sophisticated submarines and surface combatants that Russia has comes out of the bastion where they are built, tested and fielded.

And then employs in the Atlantic, in the Mediterranean and some other transits to the Pacific. But the bottom line is in that very contested, very highly sophisticated part of the world we play zone defense. We can't man on man and so I hate to simplify this but it's just a very simple way of understanding.”


“Thank you. Again, our fleet today of attack subs is about 52 and as I think you know it's going to dip just because of the legacy fleet ongoing off-line. And I guess we would probably agree that that's just going to make that stress even worse for your successors in terms of trying to get those -- the assets you need to play zone defense let alone man to man.”

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) John Richardson tells Courtney that he a new force structure review will “include a comprehensive look at the attack submarine force levels” and agreed on the need to sustain the two a year build rate of Virginia-class submarines to mitigate the looming force structure shortfall in attack submarines. (March 16, 2016)


“Admiral Richardson, we had a sequence of witnesses over the space of about seven days a couple weeks ago, Admiral Stavridis, Admiral Harris and General Breedlove. And without any prompting, Admiral Stavridis talked about how Russian submarine activity now is about 70 to 80 percent of where it was during the Cold War. Admiral Harris, again, just said, you know, we need more submarines out in the Pacific.

General Breedlove talked about the Greenland, Iceland. U.K. gap and that we're playing zone defense.

We have a force structure that was developed back 10 years ago, 48 submarines in the fleet. We have 54 now that are under stress. Do we need to take another look at that force structure?”


“Sir, we do, and I've started that look right now. It's part of our updated force structure assessments, and that will include a comprehensive of look at attack submarine force levels.”


“So I mean, obviously, this budget this year keeps the two-year build rate for Virginia and has all the investment in Ohio replacement?”


“Yes, sir.”


“But again, even with that, we're looking at a 41 sub fleet unless we, again, tweak or move on -- on -- can you talk about that a little bit?”


“Yes, sir. So, this goes at one of the points that the Secretary makes very eloquently is that these are long-term decisions as you highlighted. And so at the end of their lives, these ships leave service at the rate that they entered service, and we were building ships, submarines in this case at three or four-year, and that's the rate at which they leave service.

And so we have to be very thoughtful in terms of the building plan that reaches and maintains those required force levels.

Our two per year Virginia plan is part of that. We've done an intense look at the industrial base over the last year. We think we can mitigate that further, particularly in '21, there might be room, industrial -- industrial capability -- capacity to build an additional Virginia class submarine in that year.

So that would make it 10 over the five-year plan. So we look forward to discussing that with you. That would mitigate that trough somewhat.

We're building the Virginia payload module, so we get more capability out of each of those Virginia class submarine, starting in F.Y. '19. But we do have to continually challenge ourselves to make sure that we've got the right number in terms of requirements and we're doing everything that we can to look at meeting that requirement. And you know, that comes up with a resource or a cost that has been traditionally considered unacceptable.

I think we still owe you that plan at the best cost point that we can appreciate, and then we'll have a discussion.”


“I want to give you, Mr. Mabus, the floor for -- just, again, the question is, are we going to hit a 300-ship Navy with the -- contracts that are underway and the work that I described earlier that's -- that's happening right now?”


“We're going to get to 300 by '19 and to 308 by '21, just with the ships that this committee has authorized, that has been appropriated and that are under contract today.

And once again, these are long-term things. I mean, it took the fleet size we're living with today, that -- those decisions were made, eight, 10, 15 years ago. The fleet size that we will be living with in the mid-2020s and late 2020s, those decisions are being made today.

This -- this administration has built all the ships we're going to be able to build and have them under contract.”

The Secretary of Defense Ash Carter tells Courtney that he agrees with the assessment of Navy leadership that “our undersea capability is a critical strength of the United States” (March 22, 2016)


“Secretary Carter, retired Admiral  Stavridis, Under Secretary Stackley, Secretary Maybus, have all appeared over the past couple weeks, and we’ve talked about this question of the long view of the undersea fleet which Admiral Harris and Admiral Breedlove said at this point they are kind of playing defense out there because of what’s happening in the Pacific and the North Atlantic.

Again, this is a good budget in terms of investing as you point out in shipbuilding and submarine building. But down the road there is a possibility that we are going to see a dip at probably the worst possible time. So I guess the question is do you agree that this is an issue that we need to work on as Sec. Stackley has promised so that we are able to keep our eyes focused on the long view in terms of that emerging challenge.”


“I do agree with that. Our undersea capability is a critical strength of the United States. We need to keep that strength, and extend that strength.  The biggest issue we are going to face beginning in the 20s’ is the beginning of the Ohio Class Replacement, and that is the building once again of SSBNs as well as attack submarines SSNs, which we are doing today. And we have been stressing now for several years we are going to need some consideration of the need to recapitalize our undersea nuclear deterrent, because that can’t be done at the expense of the rest of our undersea fleet or we will erode our dominance and that is major issue that’s looming in the 20s’”


“Thank you, and again we think we found some ways to use different authorities, multi-year procurement etc.., to again maximize every efficiencies to help in that effort. And again Sec. Stackely empathized that when he appeared before the committee.”

Video recordings of HASC hearings is available on upon request.