WASHINGTON — A federal spending package unveiled this week would give the U.S. Navy significantly more funding for ships and aircraft, after many lawmakers complained the Navy didn’t request enough money last spring.
Ahead of a looming government shutdown later this week, the House of Representatives is voting on an omnibus spending package that includes $728.5 billion in military spending for the year, or 5.6% more for fiscal 2022 than was passed for FY21. The Senate would take up the bill following passage in the House.
Included in that package is money to strengthen the submarine industrial base, keep Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet production line running, pay for eight additional ships and craft beyond what the Navy sought, and more.
Among the largest challenges the Navy faces today — and the most sizeable expenses in its portfolio — is construction of the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine. The submarine industrial base must move from building just two Block IV Virginia-class attack submarines in FY19 to building two larger Block V Virginia SSNs a year plus one Columbia SSBN a year, starting in FY26.
Suppliers are already struggling to keep up with the demand ahead of reaching the height of the growing workload.
Included in the omnibus spending bill is $130 million for submarine supplier development. The document notes this investment includes $35 million “to support facilities infrastructure at submarine production shipyards.”
It says “the Navy and the shipbuilders are committed to jointly resourcing the capital investments necessary to meet the Navy’s goal of building two VIRGINIA Class submarines per year during construction of COLUMBIA Class submarines” and the secretary of the Navy must include in the FY23 president’s budget request a list of facilities supported by this funding, the planned cost-sharing arrangement and a list of additional investments needed in future years.
However, the bill cuts Virginia program funding by $15 million for an “unjustified request.” It also trims another $15 million in advance procurement funding for long lead time contractor-furnished equipment deemed “early to need.”
The same day the House considered the omnibus bill, the Submarine Industrial Base Council held an event to bring suppliers of all sizes to Washington for a lobbying push.
Speaking on March 9, Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat from Connecticut whose district includes prime contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat, told suppliers his staff is still going through the line-by-line changes in the spending bill but “the fundamental priorities of two-per-year Virginia and Columbia … [were] never an issue” throughout this extended FY22 process.
Speaking about the National Defense Authorization Act that the House and Senate armed services committees passed — rather than the new spending bill, which was released overnight — Courtney said the boosts to submarine building capacity were important to “maintaining this high-tempo production rate, possibly going even higher.”
HASC and SASC previously gave the Navy authorization to buy as many as three Virginias a year under the current multiyear procurement contract, though the Navy has continued to buy at a rate of two a year, noting industry’s limited capacity.
Courtney said even more work could come to the U.S. submarine industrial base, depending on what comes of the talks between the U.S., U.K. and Australia on setting up an Australian nuclear submarine program. He stressed the importance of developing the workforce, strengthening the supply chain and adding new facilities at the two sub builders, Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding.
Noting existing construction at Electric Boat’s yards in Connecticut and Rhode Island and Newport News Shipbuilding’s growth in Virginia, Courtney said, “if you take longer than a year to go visit these places, the before and after is just unbelievable, what’s happening. But the fact is, we need more, in my opinion, facilities.”
The Navy rankled some lawmakers when it asked for just one Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer in its FY22 budget request. The House and Senate armed services committees had worked to secure spending authority for as many as three destroyers, but the omnibus spending bill ultimately funds two.
It adds $1.66 billion to buy a second DDG in FY22 and $120 million in advance procurement funding for a ship in FY23.
The bill would also slow down the Navy’s pursuit of a guided-missile frigate, taking all $69.1 million in advance procurement funding from the Navy’s budget proposal after lawmakers deemed it an “advance procurement unjustified request.”
The document notes the frigate design is based on a proven hull, but still “remains a new class and the Navy and the shipbuilding industrial base have had past production challenges in managing costs, technical concurrency, design changes and schedule of lead ships of a class.”
It expresses concern about adding a second frigate construction yard “before the first shipyard has identified and corrected technical and production issues.” Before awarding a contract to a second yard that would build prime contractor Fincantieri’s frigate design, the bill would require the Navy to address “technology maturation and risk reduction for critical shipboard components; major systems integration; full ship technical data package creation; and successful operationally realistic testing for the first ship.”
This list of requirements could push the selection of a second frigate construction yard several years beyond the original plans.
Additionally, the omnibus bill adds $250 million in advance procurement funding for a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, LPD-32. The Senate Armed Services Committee had pushed the Navy to buy LPD-32 already as part of a four-amphib contract to provide stability to the industrial base, but the Navy is delaying a decision, pending the results of an amphibious warship requirements study expected to wrap up this spring.
The bill adds $577 million to buy an expeditionary sea base; $590 million for two expeditionary fast transport ships, one of which would be in a medical ship configuration; $775 million for an additional John Lewis-class fleet oiler, plus another $20 million in “affordability initiatives” for the oiler program; and $235 million to buy three additional Ship to Shore Connectors.
The bill also includes funding for three littoral combat ships — LCS-3 Fort Worth, LCS-7 Detroit and LCS-9 Little Rock — the Navy had asked to decommission in 2022. Included is $18.9 million for operations, $30.8 million for ship depot maintenance, $25.4 million for modernization and $22.6 million in “undistributed adjustments.”
The Navy had planned to end the Super Hornet production line at the end of FY21, choosing not to buy any in FY22. The sea service attributed the decision to its growing confidence it was managing a fighter shortfall and would fill in remaining gaps by 2025.
But Congress wasn’t convinced in hearings throughout 2021, and the new omnibus spending bill includes $900 million for a dozen Super Hornets. It also nixes $10 million the Navy had requested to shut down the production line.
The bill includes $250 million for two additional CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopters for the Marines as well as $320 million for four additional MV-22 Ospreys for the Marines, increasing the service’s ability to transport itself and sustain itself forward as the Marines look to operate in a more distributed fashion across the Pacific.
The bill also has $40 million for two additional large Group 5 unmanned aerial systems — the MQ-9A Reaper or something like it — to provide the Marines with greater intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability while spread across greater distances.
The Navy would get $323 million for two additional MQ-4 Triton UAVs, which the Navy and Congress had paused buying while the Navy continued developing an upgraded multi-intelligence variant.
The bill includes $117.8 million for four F-35B Joint Strike Fighter engines, as well as $50 million to accelerate setup of a maintenance depot for F-35Bs.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.