(Updates with lawmaker reaction beginning in eighth paragraph.)
The Trump administration is reversing course and planning to ask Congress to fund two Virginia-class attack submarines this fiscal year, a step that could advance plans for a 500-ship Navy.
Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought is seeking to adjust the Pentagon’s fiscal 2021 funding request, which included only one attack submarine made by General Dynamics Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.
Building up the submarine fleet is part of a new naval proposal that calls for a mix of 500 manned and robotic ships by 2045.
The Defense Department’s budget request this spring raised alarm with lawmakers who for years pushed the Navy to buy two subs a year. The administration proposed shifting funding away from the submarine program to instead bolster the agency that manages nuclear weapons, the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration.
The change OMB now requests is necessary to “address an urgent development of critical importance to the nation,” according to a letter addressed to the leaders of the Senate and House Appropriations committees and viewed by Bloomberg Government.
The Trump’s administration revised request comes as House and Senate appropriators are negotiating an omnibus spending bill covering the entire government, including the Pentagon.
The House-passed defense spending bill (H.R. 7617) includes funding for a second Virginia-class sub, while a proposal released by Senate appropriators included an additional $472 million for the advance procurement of materials to build the subs.
“Budgets are what matter, and the one they sent over was a real hot mess,” Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces panel said in an interview. Including funding for a second Virginia-class submarine in both the House defense policy bill (H.R. 6395) and spending bill “was a big lift,” but the administration’s requested adjustment may help to “get it done,” he said.
General Dynamics builds the submarines in Groton, Conn., in Courtney’s district.
The Pentagon completed a nine-month study of the Navy’s force structure and the necessary technology to compete with China and Russia. The results of the study confirm the need to accelerate the construction of Virginia–class submarine construction to at least two per year over the next five years, according to Vought.
Vought has also traveled to shipyards in Connecticut and Virginia to make sure that a plan to buy two subs a year is affordable, according to a senior administration official who asked not to be named to disclose the director’s plans. Vought spoke to leaders of the two companies, who assured him that they can take on two submarines annually.
Vought is requesting full funding for what would be the 10th submarine under an existing multiyear procurement agreement.
The OMB director is also telling congressional leaders that funding naval priorities should not come at the expense of money for nuclear deterrence at the Pentagon and Department of Energy. The administration is offering to work with lawmakers on finding offsets to pay for the second submarine.
Funding it “sends an important message to America’s adversaries and a clear signal of support to the Nation’s industrial base, including second and third tier suppliers,” Vought writes in the letter.
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