Defense spending bill promises historic support for submarine production, Courtney says

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Sep. 28—Proposed defense spending approved by the U.S. House of Representatives includes a historic level of support for submarine construction and procurement and would help lay the groundwork for future production of three nuclear submarines a year, according to Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

By a 316-113 vote, the House passed the $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act for the 2022 fiscal year on Sept. 23, approving a $25 billion increase in spending over that proposed by the Biden administration.

"It was a very solid vote," Courtney, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, said in a phone interview Monday.

The Biden administration's proposal already was "very healthy" in terms of its continuing to fully fund production of two Virginia-class attack submarines a year — work shared by Electric Boat in Groton and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia — as well as EB's ongoing work on the first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, Courtney said.

A year ago, Courtney helped lead a bipartisan effort to restore funding for a second Virginia-class submarine the Trump administration had eliminated from the 2021 NDAA.

Importantly, Courtney said, the 2022 defense spending proposal authorizes $20 million for workforce development and provides for design work for the class of submarines that follows the Virginia class.

"That's big for the region," he said. "With design for Columbia starting to taper off, funding for design of the next class ensures the demand for workers stays high."

The House also authorized an additional $567 million to support shipyard improvements to accommodate future increases in Virginia-class sub production from two to three a year by 2025.

Courtney said EB is using all the space it has to build the Virginia-class subs and would need to erect more infrastructure to handle an increase in production.

More work also could be coming EB's way, he said, in connection with AUKUS, the new trilateral defense agreement signed by the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia, which calls for the U.S. and the U.K. to help Australia develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

"There's going to be some support work done in the U.S., and, obviously, Groton has the deepest experience," Courtney said.

Given that the Senate Armed Services Committee has approved a version of the NDAA that matches the House's "top line" of $768 billion, a final bill that reconciles the two should not be too difficult to achieve.

"It's all good news for EB — not a whiff of opposition to it," Courtney said of the proposed spending. "Hopefully, we can get a bill in the fall."

According to Courtney's office, the House-passed 2022 NDAA provides $13.4 billion for submarine procurement, repair and research and development.

In addition to continuing support for the Virginia- and Columbia-class submarine programs, it includes $949 million for research and development of future submarine capabilities, including a $150 million increase in funding for development of the next block of submarines, and about $30 million to develop the class that follows the Virginia class.

It also includes $710 million for further maintenance work on the USS Hartford. The Navy awarded EB the contract for initial maintenance work in June.

The proposed NDAA also would benefit eastern Connecticut through a $20 million allocation for operational testing of unmanned remote acoustic sensor systems that would help the Navy evaluate platforms like those developed by ThayerMahan of Groton, and authorize $50 million for the Department of Defense supplemental impact aid program, which provides support to local school districts with high proportions of military children, including Groton public schools.

It also would authorize a new Connecticut National Guard Readiness Center in Putnam, which would support the Guard's 643rd Military Police Company. The unit is now stationed at an outdated armory in Westbrook.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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