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Rep. Courtney Questions Navy Officials Over Virginia-Class Submarine Reduction in 2021 Budget

February 28, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT), Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, today questioned Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Michael M. Gilday about the Navy’s 2021 budget request, which included a reduction in Virginia-class production next year from two submarines to one.

“In this year’s submission, you’ve got two salvage ships. We need them, they’re important, but let’s face it: the [operational plans] for our near-peer competitors, China and Russia, the attack submarines are really the tip of the spear in terms of what we need out there. And cutting that Virginia-class sub […] is at-odds with the National Defense Strategy when you drill down in terms of what real lethality is.

“Last year, Admiral Richardson – Admiral Gilday’s predecessor – when he was testifying about boosting attack submarine production to above the program of record of two-per-year, stated that ‘With respect to our greatest gap between the war-fighting requirement and current inventory, there is no greater need than the attacks submarine fleet. It’s a wide gap, and it’s getting wider. So ever single submarine counts against closing that gap.’ At that point we were talking about going above the program of record – now we’re in a situation where we’re below the program of record of two a year.

“I want to just salute the fact that in your unfunded priorities you put at the top of the list restoring that submarine. Again, Admiral Gilday, we were up in Groton on Monday, and a couple months ago up in Quonset. You got a real firsthand look in terms of the workforce, the design completion, which you mentioned for both the VPM and Columbia. What's the Navy's position about execution in terms of adhering to the two a year program in terms of just is that a factor in the decision, or was it resources?”

In response to Rep. Courtney, Admiral Gilday confirmed that “it was definitely affordability in terms of that submarine being cut,” not concerns about the ability for the industrial base to handle the work. With respect to the two a year build rate and the priority placed on submarines, Admiral Gilday added that: 

“To your previous question, you asked about numbers per year – yes. In terms of two-a-year, to close the gap on where we need to be, that’s how we need to build. 
“And if you asked me, if I could give you another ship today, what would it be? It would be a Virginia-class submarine.”

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

  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper was questioned about the makeup of the 355-ship fleet, responding that “I think we need more attack submarines, frankly.” He also testified that “I'm a big believer in attack submarines. I actually believe, my gut tells me we need more than what we've planned for.” 
  • When asked whether reducing the Virginia-class submarine build rate in exchange for increased nuclear weapons modernization funds reflected his best military advice, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley stated that “No, it is that particular case, I wasn't personally involved in the decision on that. However, that was a case where there was some internal deliberations at the last minute to make sure that the nuclear enterprise was fully funded.” Similarly, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly was asked whether the Navy was involved in the decision, “I was not directly involved in those discussion. It happened at budget endgame very quickly and we were informed after the decision was made.” 
  • Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly was asked how last-minute budget changes, such as redirecting funds from submarine shipbuilding to nuclear modernization, impacts the Navy’s ability to meet its force level goals. Modly responded: “Well, to be frank it's not helpful because it takes a ship out of a plan that we are driving towards. It particularly is harmful in the sense that it takes a ship about of a category of ship for which we are going to have a hard time getting to in the way. We feel like we need to have at least 66 attack submarines. Even on the 10-year trajectory based on industrial base capacity we think we can get to about 49 or 50 so it takes out one...the ship that comes out of the process in any given year is going to impact our ability to get there as quickly as I would like to.”

On February 20th, following submission of the DOD’s official FY 21 Budget Request, the Navy sent to Congress its FY 21 Unfunded Priorities List. Of the items listed, the Navy ranked the restoration of the second 2021 Virginia-class submarine as its top priority.

To view Rep. Courtney’s full remarks from today’s hearing, click here.