WASHINGTON— U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Wednesday sent an urgent letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper demanding an immediate explanation why the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request funds only one Virginia Class submarine.
“Given that fast attack submarines are critical in ensuring our nation’s essential undersea superiority, we fail to understand the abrupt abandonment of the two-per-year delivery commitment for the Virginia Class program. We hope you will reconsider this dangerous departure from our long-established, bipartisan commitment to undersea predominance. Congress should do so if you do not,” wrote the senators.
The full text of the letter to Secretary Esper is below:
Dear Secretary Esper:
We write to express our concern regarding the FY 2021 budget request and your decision to support a budget that significantly increases funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration to the detriment of shipbuilding investments. We are particularly alarmed by the decision to request funding for only one Virginia Class submarine this year–a proposal that directly contradicts the National Defense Strategy, inexplicably delays the Navy’s goal of reaching 66 fast-attack submarines by 2048, and dangerously ignores the advancing capabilities of the Russian and Chinese submarine fleets. We request immediate justification for this shortsighted proposal and look forward to working with Senate colleagues to restore funding for two Virginia Class submarines in the FY 2021 budget.
Your decision seems especially troubling in light of your August 27, 2019 visit to Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut. We appreciated your comments emphasizing the importance of continued investment in the submarine fleet. During your visit, you stated: “The Russians and Chinese have been at it for a while and we’ve kind of missed the ball, but we’re back on our game right now… We have to maintain that overmatch, and that means we have to continue to grow the fleet and build capabilities into each version.” Given that fast attack submarines are critical in ensuring our nation’s essential undersea superiority, we fail to understand the abrupt abandonment of the two-per-year delivery commitment for the Virginia Class program. We hope you will reconsider this dangerous departure from our long-established, bipartisan commitment to undersea predominance. Congress should do so if you do not.
Reporting indicates that–under pressure from the Office of Management and Budget–you decided to shift approximately $1.6 billion in funding from the Virginia Class program to the National Nuclear Security Administration. But even this alleged funding trade-off is illogical. The Pentagon’s budget overview materials touts that “the recent Defense-Wide Reviews of the Fourth Estate identified reform opportunities of $5.9 billion in FY 2021 savings for reinvestment in lethality and readiness.” Further, the Comptroller reportedly identified $3.4 billion in savings for “reinvestment in National Defense Strategy priorities.” The Department identified total savings of $9.3 billion in FY 2021, so we fail to understand why the Navy could not afford to include funding for two Virginia Class submarines in its budget request–especially when Congress signaled support for ten submarines in Block V by appropriating an additional $200 million in advanced procurement funding for a tenth Virginia Class submarine with the Virginia Payload Module in FY 2020.
We have requested additional information from the Navy on the Virginia Class budget request and urged the Navy to include funding for one Virginia Class submarine on its unfunded requirements list. The Virginia Class budget proposal is an insult to the hardworking and talented submarine workforce in Connecticut and across the country. We intend to fight for the submarines our nation needs, and we look forward to discussing this issue with you in advance of the Senate Armed Services Committee budget posture hearing in March.