Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sub hearing...

UPDATE: The actual video from this opening session is now available to view at www.norwichbulletin.com. Additional video from the hearing will be posted later this afternoon and early evening .

Freshman Democrat Joe Courtney was the one who asked for a hearing today in Washington on the future of the Virginia class submarine. The hearing, being held before the House Armed Services Seapower & Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee, convened at 2 p.m.

This is what Courtney, whose district includes submarine builder Electric Boat, had to say at the opening of the session:

"Chairman Taylor, let me first thank you for holding this important hearing. Since I joined this committee you and your staff have been an incredible help to me. I also want to thank our witnesses for being here today, especially John Casey of Electric Boat."

"As the Congressman for Connecticut's Second District, I am intimately familiar with the subject matter before us - our nuclear attack submarine fleet. Whether you visit Sub Base New London or talk to yard workers at Electric Boat, it is easy to see the tremendous pride that everyone connected with the submarine program in Southeastern Connecticut has for the work they do. This pride is well earned and I am proud to represent this important region here in Congress."

"There are critical challenges facing the attack submarine fleet that I am interested in addressing here today. First, I am concerned that our SSN procurement rate allows the size of our submarine fleet drop below the Navy's own stated force requirements and fails to invest in the fleet we need to address the long term strategic threats ahead. Second, I am alarmed by the lack of investment in sustaining the very specialized submarine design workforce. Finally, given the fact that we have key leaders in Congress who are interested in increasing naval shipbuilding this year, I am interested in finding ways that all the stakeholders - Congress, the Navy and the submarine industry - can get to two submarines per year earlier than 2012."

"Based on the Navy's own stated force requirements, we need to sustain an attack submarine level of at least 48 boats. However, under the current shipbuilding plan, our nation will have fewer than that for a 14 year period between 2020 and 2033 -- with a low of 40 ships from 2028 to 2029. The drastic drop in the SSN level is due to the retirement of the Los Angles-Class Submarine, slated to begin retiring in numbers anywhere between one to four boats beginning in FY2014 while being replaced with one or two Virginia-class SSNs. We simply will not be building enough ships to replace those going out of service."

"Last week, front page stories in the Washington Times and Los Angeles Times detailed China's major buildup of submarines -- including five new strategic nuclear-missile boats and several advanced nuclear-powered attack submarines. It really is just a matter of simple math that the size of our fleet is going to be significantly smaller than the Chinese navy's under our current submarine building plan."

"If the fleet we build today is the fleet that protects us tomorrow, then the current shipbuilding plan does not adequately invest in the attack submarine fleet we need to address future threats -- both known and unanticipated."

"We are also not building or designing enough submarines to sustain our submarine construction and design workforces - both true national treasures that we cannot afford to lose. The submarine construction and design workforce are highly specialized fields with unique technical and manufacturing capabilities. I am deeply concerned that continuing to delay the procurement of a second Virginia class submarine and postponing the design of the next generation SSBN submarine will do serious and long standing harm to these critical workforces. They are not easily duplicated or reconstituted should they be allowed to fade away."

"The British experience with their Astute-class development program is a significant warning against letting our submarine construction and design workforce slip away. In this case, they allowed their submarine design and engineering workforce atrophy for years from lack of submarine design work. As a result, the Astute-class design program faced extensive delays and cost overruns as they struggled to recapture that specialized knowledge and experience. In the end, the UK was forced to rely on designers from Electric Boat to help overcome these hurdles."

"This example should serve as a clear warning to this committee and this Congress. Yet, for the first time in nearly 50 years, we are not designing the next generation submarine. This places us in the very alarming position of permanently damaging a very specialized workforce that cannot be replaced with the snap of the fingers."

"Last year the Navy asked the RAND Corporation to look into a strategy to preserve the submarine design and engineering base. Their report, expected to be published soon, concludes that the most effective way to maintain this critical workforce is to begin design work on the next generation of SSBN sooner and over a longer period of time.

The bottom line is that as we look to the long term challenges ahead, it is clear that the most important action that we can take in the short term is to increase attack submarine procurement to two a year as soon as possible."

"We can all agree that the Virginia-class program is a true shipbuilding success story, especially in light of other challenges we see in other shipbuilding programs. Again and again, the talented workforce in Groton and Newport News exceed expectations by delivering an unmatched product on budget, on schedule and performing at record levels. The shipyards and the industrial base have made tremendous progress towards meeting the Navy's cost target of $2 billion per boat by FY2012."

"It is clear that the Navy supports the 30-year shipbuilding plan and is concerned about the impact of any changes by Congress in the submarine program will have on their overall shipbuilding strategy. With no constraints or fiscal limitations, I believe all of us would come to the same conclusion - that under our current plan we are simply not constructing enough submarines today to meet the challenges of the future."

"This year we are fortunate to have the leadership of Chairmen Jack Murtha, Ike Skelton and Gene Taylor, all of whom have committed to increasing our investment in shipbuilding this year - including the addition of another Virginia-class SSN. To this end, I am interested to examine ways in which all of the stakeholders - the Congress, the Navy and the submarine industry - can find a way to move forward in this goal together."

"I look forward to discussing these important issues with our witnesses. Once again, thank you, Chairman Taylor, for holding this hearing today."

3 Comments:

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2:36 PM  
Blogger wtfdnucsubsailor said...

I hope the hearing will result in the construction of two subs a year starting in 2008 and the commencement of the design of the next SSBN.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Ray Hackett said...

This is the same committee that last year - under GOP leadership - authorized the construction of two subs per year beginning in 2009. But the trick is, and will be, to get the Appropriations Committee to actually put the money in the budget to make that happen. And that is the big hurdle.

3:54 PM  

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