Sending Office: Honorable Joe Courtney
Support the Bipartisan Courtney/Wittman Amendment
“In my view, if there is sufficient funding for only one more weapon or ship system,
that ship should be an SSN [attack submarine].”
Admiral Robert Natter, US Navy (ret.),
Commander, US Atlantic Fleet / Fleet Forces Command (2000-2003)
A lot has been said about our amendment in the last few days, and we appreciate the strong and passionate views of members on both sides of our proposal. As we approach the vote on our amendment, we would encourage you to consider these points:
- Our amendment responds to the needs of our military leaders by ensuring that we can produce more submarines and mitigate the looming shortfall in our undersea force in the coming decade.
- This amendment provides the early funding and strong demand signal that Navy officials have testified that they need to expand submarine construction as they negotiate the next five-year contract.
- This amendment follows the same path that Congress has taken in each of the past two Virginia-class block contracts to provide early funding to expand construction over and above the Navy’s plan. It also builds on the work to support expanded submarine
construction passed by the House in the FY19 NDAA, the FY18 NDAA, and the FY18 Omnibus.
- Nothing in our amendment locks the Congress, the Navy or the Defense Department into any single course of action; it preserves options that Congress would continue to evaluate and shape moving ahead.
- Finally, while a vote for our amendment preserve options for growing our submarine fleet, a vote against the amendment would make it significantly more difficult and more expensive to change course in the future.
We have provided additional background on each of these points below. Thank you, as always, for your consideration. We would greatly appreciate your vote today.
The looming shortfall in our undersea capabilities
Over the last few years, military leaders have testified before Congress to sound alarm over the looming shortfall in submarines. Under current plans, our existing fleet of 52 attack submarines will drop by nearly 20 percent, to just 42, in the next decade.
At the same time, the Navy’s requirements for these submarines has increased, from 48 to 66 submarines, and demand for undersea capabilities is growing. This mismatch in demand and supply will leave our undersea force at more than one third below the Navy’s
minimum required levels.
For example, Admiral Harry Harris, the recently-retired Commander of US Pacific Command, testified that his undersea requirements in this key region were only met by half with the current fleet and that
“just in submarine numbers alone, I don’t have what I need.” At the same time, General Scaparrotti, Commander of US European Command, testified that he is contending with levels of Russian submarine activity the US has not experienced
since the 1980s and that “I don’t have . . . the submarine capacity that would best enable me to do my job.”
In addition, Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, testified to the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee that the Navy needs to grow the submarine force while General Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, stated in February 2018
that “[a]s a naval force, part of a maritime campaign, we need more attack submarines.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis concurred, telling the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year that
“we always need more submarines.”
Our amendment responds to these calls from our military leaders by ensuring that we can produce more submarines and mitigate the looming shortfall in our undersea force in the coming decade.
An Opportunity to Expand Submarine Construction
Fortunately, Congress has the opportunity to take action to mitigate this shortfall
right now. The Navy is currently in negotiations with industry for the next five-year block contract for Virginia-class submarines, covering construction plans through 2023. As part of its most recent 30-year shipbuilding plan, the Navy identified sufficient
industrial base capacity in 2022 and 2023 to build three Virginia-class submarines in each of these years, more than the currently planned two per-year. Negotiations are expected to be completed on this contract by the end of 2018, which makes it critical
that the Navy and Congress act now to make full use of this capacity.
When asked what would be needed to achieve this goal, the Navy’s testimony could not be more clear—Congress must make a down payment in 2019 in order to build these additional submarines efficiently and affordably. For example, Assistant
Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, James Geurts, said that “the most efficient way would be to get those [submarines] into the multiyear [contract], which would mean that we have would have to have some economic order
quantity funding in ’19 commensurate with those two additional ships.” Rear Admiral Michael Jabaley, the Navy manager of submarine programs, said that
“The most important thing…is that an early signal for funding to allow us to leverage the economic order quantity buys for 12 ships instead of 10, if we were to add ships in ’22 and ’23, that signal for funding to the supplier base would be critically
This amendment provides the funding and demand signal that Navy officials have testified that they need to expand submarine construction as they negotiate the next five-year contract.
Congress Has a Record of Expanding Submarine Construction
Congress has a long record of successfully expanding submarine construction plans. In 2007, Congress authorized and funded long lead-time materials for a second submarine in 2011, which was not planned for in the Navy’s budget at the time. After Congress
acted, the Navy signed the “Block III” contract that included that additional submarine, which achieved the two-a-year build rate. In 2012, Congress authorized and funded long lead materials for one additional submarine in the next block contract, which was
not planned for in the Navy’s budget at the time. With Congress’s action, the Navy signed the “Block IV” contract that added that additional submarine and led to the approval of the “largest shipbuilding contract in U.S. Navy history”.
Congress has already indicated its strong support for more submarines in the “Block V” contract currently being negotiated. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act and the 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act, both signed into law after strong bipartisan
votes in the House, both authorized the Navy to seek additional submarines in the next contract. And, just last month, the House passed the 2019 NDAA with a wide bipartisan margin of 351-66 that included both the funding increase for the Virginia Class submarine
program and the offsets outlined in this amendment.
This amendment follows the same path that Congress has taken in the past to expand submarine production, and reflects funding and priorities already passed by the House.
e-Dear Colleague version 2.0