HASC Seapower Leaders Optimistic on Submarine Construction Industrial Base
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The chairman and ranking member of the House subcommittee that oversees U.S. Navy shipbuilding are optimistic that the industrial base is up to the task of delivering the Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine on time while adding construction of more attack submarines.
“I am confident we can do this,” said Rob Wittman, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, who, along with ranking member Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., spoke May 2 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “The key is charting the right path and putting us on the right ramp speed to get there. How do make sure that we send the demand signal to industry to where they have the certainty to say, ‘You’re serious about going from whatever to two-to-three Virginia-class submarines each year,’ that we’re going to make the investment to make sure we’re going to deliver Columbia on time.”
Wittman stressed the importance of congressional oversight to keeping the submarine programs on schedule and on budget.
“I have asked that we stay in constant contact with the Navy,” Wittman said. “There have just been a few hiccups with the Columbia class. I want to make sure we are on top of that immediately to understand what we’re going to do mitigate those circumstances. But I am confident that the industry has the ability to do that.
“We’re going to ask them to do some things to ramp up, which means they’re going to have to have people [and] infrastructure to do that. I think they’re very willing and capable to do that as long as we send them the demand signal that Congress is serious about this and this is where we want to go, and this is our long-range plan to get there,” he said.
Courtney said the shipbuilding industry and the Navy have benefitted from the successes of the Virginia-class attack submarine program and that those successes can benefit the Columbia program.
“That’s where the lessons learned from Virginia construction are going to be applied toward Columbia, which is promising in not having setbacks in terms of the way the program moves forward,” he said. “The Sea-Based Deterrence Fund’s efficiencies that we authorized haven’t been factored in totally in terms of the Navy’s projections. If they really embrace those authorities and implement them, that we can even buy back some time in terms of schedule for Columbia construction.”
“We were able, because of a battle that took place almost over a three-year period, to get dollars into the Columbia-class program through the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” Wittman said. “It began to stick. Initially the appropriators said ‘no, we’re not going to do that, we don’t do it that way.’
“We have funded[some] ships in the past through incremental funding,” he said. “If we really want to leverage the most out of the dollars we have, we need to use incremental funding. The appropriators don’t like it but if we push the issue, I think that we can convince them of the value of using those dollars in incremental funding.
Key to getting the shipbuilding investments needed by industry, Wittman said, is to convince the shipbuilding industry of the long-term commitment of Congress and the Navy to building a 355-ship battle force.