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19 Jan 2024

House Members Send Warning to White House Over AUKUS, Attack Submarine Procurement

House Members Send Warning to White House Over AUKUS, Attack Submarine Procurement
U.S. Navy
Originally posted on USNI News - Mallory Shelbourne and Sam Lagrone

Lawmakers are warning the Biden administration not to disrupt the procurement plans for the Virginia-class attack boat program, arguing doing so will hobble the AUKUS partnership.

In a letter, key Republican and Democrat lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee urged President Joe Biden to continue buying two Virginia-class submarines per year to maintain a healthy industrial base and build enough submarine capacity that the U.S. can sell boats to the Australians. The bipartisan message comes as the White House and Pentagon consider requesting only one Virginia-class submarine in the Fiscal Year 2025 defense budget, several industry and defense officials. Last year’s budget request projected the Navy buying two boars per year for the foreseeable future.

“Simply put, now is not the time to insert instability in the supply chain with uncertainty in procurement rates,” lawmakers wrote in the letter, dated Jan. 17.

“The FY2025 budget will come at a pivotal time for the Virginia-class submarine program and sustaining our unmatched edge in the undersea domain. Any deviation from the planned cadence of the construction and procurement of two submarines per year will reverberate both at home and abroad, with allies and competitors alike.”

House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), HASC ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee chairman Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Miss.), and HASC seapower ranking member Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) signed the letter.

The letter comes ahead of the impending Fiscal Year 2025 budget proposal, which is due by law to Congress early next month.

U.S. Navy officials maintain that the industrial base must build 2.33 attack boats per year in order for the U.S. to sell Virginia-class submarines to the Australians, which is a key component of the pact known as AUKUS between the Australian, the United Kingdom and the United States. The submarine industrial base is currently building 1.3 attack boats per year, despite the Navy buying two per year. The current goal is for the industrial base to build two Virginia boats and one Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine per year.

In the letter to Biden, the lawmakers argue that recent investments in the submarine industrial base have helped production and that industry needs the persistent buy of two boats per year.

“That commitment has driven suppliers to make critical capital investments and expand capacity based on a predictable forecast in expected work,” the letter reads.
“It has also driven metal trades workers, designers, and engineers to choose shipbuilding as promising careers in record numbers. Deviation from projected procurement rates in the FY2025 budget request would upend the faith of a steady procurement profile in the Future Years Defense Plan by our suppliers, as well as any plans for future capital investments in the supply chain.”

The letter also comes as the Pentagon looks to shift money away from traditional programs like shipbuilding to fund pressing initiatives like the swarm drones and loitering munitions of the “Replicator Initiative” program announced last year by Deputy Defense Secretary Kath Hicks.

Several industry and defense officials have told USNI News over the last several weeks that the Office of Secretary of Defense is considering trimming the submarine buy to route money to capabilities needed for what senior Pentagon officials see as more immediate threats, like a cross-straight invasion of Taiwan. One proposal under consideration would buy one submarine in the Fiscal Year 2025 budget, but also include more money for advanced procurement to keep the submarine industrial base healthy, a person familiar with the budget discussions told USNI News on Thursday.

Navy and Pentagon officials have been frustrated with the pace of submarine construction, which is more than 400 months behind as of last year, according to a summary of shipbuilding programs reviewed by USNI News. Last year, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro considered trimming the submarine buy to one hull in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget submission, but the Navy ultimately asked for two hulls.

When reached on Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for the Navy’s budget programs said information on the shipbuilding budget ahead of the rollout of the Fiscal Year 2025 is “pre-decisional.”

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