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Navy Assistant Secretary Confirms Confidence in EB Shipyard, Concerns Over Budget Proposal’s Impact on Columbia Program Amid Questioning from Rep. Courtney

March 5, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), Chairman of the House Armed Subcommittee on Services Seapower and Projection Forces, continued to press Navy officials over the 2021 budget request to remove a second Virginia class submarine as Assistant Secretary of the Navy James F. Geurts appeared for a hearing before Chairman Courtney’s Seapower Subcommittee.

Over the course of Chairman Courtney’s questioning, Assistant Secretary Geurts testified about his confidence in the ability of the submarine industrial base to support the second 2021 submarine, the importance of providing stability through the two a year build rate, and the possible risk to preparations for the start of Columbia-class construction.

Courtney: “Columbia, as you point out, begins construction late this year. The real ramp-up starts in about 2023. So, the question I have is – it’s two questions. Number one, do you have confidence right now that the shipyards are capable and have the capacity to handle the two-a-year build rate as-required under Block IV, and at least the first four years out of the five-year Block V contract?”

Assistant Secretary Geurts: “Yes sir. I had less confidence, candidly, six to nine months ago when we were seeing some of the Block IV deliveries starting to move to the right, and the concern was ‘could we maintain the cadence we needed to, and not add risk to Columbia?’ And I’ve said repeatedly before, the number one way to reduce risk to Columbia is a stable, well-performing Virginia program. And so, at that time, we started working very closely with the shipbuilder to get that end of Block III/start of Block IV performance stabilized. I’m happy to report that over the last six months that has stabilized. My concerns are not now ‘can they execute?’, they just need to continue to execute. At the time we created a potential relief valve for that tenth ship in the multi-year […] it was more an affordability issue, not an execution issue. I’m confident that they can execute the ship.

After confirming the Assistant Secretary’s confidence in the shipbuilders at EB, Chairman Courtney focused his questioning on the budget proposal’s potential impact on the Columbia-class submarine program.

Courtney: “We’ve confirmed that the two-a-year build rate is executable. The question is, then, if we lose that last sub in the Block V contract, which would be around 2023, which would be at the same time ramp-up is occurring, the fact is that it may add – that confluence of events may add risk to Columbia. Is that a correct way to view things?”

Geurts: “Yes sir. I think submarine construction is very sensitive to cadence. And the number one thing we can do is stability, and get on a cadence...If we cut short, and have a large gap at the end of Block V before having Block VI move in and Columbia start up, that will be a risk to execution not only in Virginia but in Columbia.

Finally, Chairman Courtney highlighted the fact that it’s “now or never” for the two-per-year build rate on critical Virginia-class submarines. He noted that it would be far more expensive for Congress replace the missing Virginia-class submarine in a later budget, than it would be to restore it to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. Again, Assistant Secretary Guerts agreed:

Assistant Secretary Geurts: “Absolutely. At some point, you don’t have the capacity – again, back to cadence – to speed cadence up. This is the year – I would say we need to either add that ship in this year, or then we’ll just have to work on that at the start of Block VI. So we are very sensitive coming to that cadence and—and not—I don't think there is a way to execute three in a Columbia year with a high degree of success. 

Yesterday’s exchange adds to several rounds of questioning from last week in the House Armed Services Committee related to the Navy's 2021 budget request for shipbuilding and the Virginia class submarine, and from this week in the Senate Armed Services Committee:

  • In questioning from Ranking Member Rob Wittman (R-VA), Secretary Geurts shared that as part of deliberations on the 2021 budget request, “My advice was we can execute that second '21 ship, should funding be available.” 
  • In testimony to Senate Seapower Subcommittee Ranking Member Mazie Hirono, Secretary Geurts stated clearly that “if the funds were there, I would have no reservation with putting those funds on contract and adding that 10th ship.”  
  • In response to Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday described his recent visit to Groton: “In terms of the workforce I was just up in Groton at electric boat a week or so ago and I left that shipyard confident about the capability of that yard to produce boats at the rate of two a year ... I think that they can handle two boats a year based on what I have seen.” 

This week’s activities follow testimony and question in the House Armed Services Committee last week. Click here to read.