As the Pentagon places more strategic emphasis on the Asia/Pacific region, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) received backing from the leader of the Navy's Pacific fleet today regarding the vital role of the Virginia class submarine in their efforts.
Admiral Robert Willard, head of the Navy's U.S. Pacific Command, provided affirmation of the ship's importance in response to Langevin's questioning during the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. Pacific Command's budget request for Fiscal Year 2013. Langevin asked about the "capabilities offered by the Virginia-class submarines and the future challenges presented by a declining submarine fleet size."
"We rely on our submarines greatly for a great many things," said Willard. "They are multi-mission capable assets and we employ them globally and again they serve to secure the Pacific in every way. The Virginia class submarine is our newest, most formidable and provides increased capacities in some cases that we very much need I would offer that the Virginia Class Subs are the best submarine the world has probably ever seen."
In his work on the annual bill covering defense spending and programs, the National Defense Authorization Act, Langevin has played a lead role the recent increase of the yearly procurement of Virginia Class Submarines from one to two, and in supporting the outstanding work done by Electric Boat to build the ships at the company's Quonset, Rhode Island, and Groton, Connecticut, facilities. He has expressed concern that the military's recently released Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) calls for the purchase of only one of the submarines in 2014, saying:
"While the budget maintains the 2-ship level in every other year, I am troubled by the Department's recommendation to delay the purchase of one submarine in 2014. Slowing down production jeopardizes jobs and the cost-savings already achieved.
"I agree the Defense Budget must be closely scrutinized as we work to address our deficit and I've advocated other cuts, but the Virginia Class Submarine is not "waste or excess.' It is a world class, next generation, multi-mission platform that is a model for being on time and under budget, and it is key to the Administration's new strategy to guarantee access to the Asia/Pacific region."
Today's discussion with Adm. Willard was the culmination of a series of hearings on the defense budget that Langevin has used to tout the benefits of the Virginia Class Submarine. Last week, the Congressman made the case for maintaining the current rate of procurement to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert Hale:
"The Virginia class submarine is a model procurement program and we're only now beginning to reap the rewards of an aggressive cost management effort and a consistent two-boat per year funding level," said Langevin. "The proposed delay of one of these subs from FY14 [Fiscal Year 2014] to outside the FYDP could disrupt these gains and incur extra costs. How did the Department come to this decision and how does the Department propose to mitigate the military risks, the monetary costs and the work force challenges generated by the shift? Obviously the Virginia class submarine is a program that has come in on time and under budget because of the efficiencies that we gain from block buys and bringing stability to the supply chain and I'm concerned this delay is going to cost us in these areas."
Under Secretary Hale responded to Langevin and addressed the reason for the cut, saying, "The submarine fits into our strategy and we'll certainly continue to buy but we were looking frankly to comply and be consistent with the Budget Control Act."
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta followed up on this comment, telling Langevin " if there are cost efficiencies that can be achieved here that allow us to [purchase the FY14 submarine] with savings and in a more cost effective way, we're prepared to look at that."