The Omnibus bill funding the government through FY14 reveals that shipbuilders – and the Members of Congress who represent them – still hold sway in the Congressional appropriations process. The Navy planned to retire seven cruisers and two amphibious ships. These nine ships were all designed and first built in the early to mid-1980s. Retiring them, rather than doing further modernizations, would save the Navy money. But the shipbuilders (prime contractors like General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works division and Huntington Ingalls Industries) and the corporations building the propulsion and weapon systems on those ships (Lockheed Martin, General Electric) don’t want that; they want to build more ships. At the very least, they want the contracts to modernize the current ships.
The omnibus bill notes, with a little bit of snark, “…the Navy again proposed to prematurely retire…” these nine ships. Sorry Navy, you can keep trying but we don’t think you are going to succeed. Instead, Congress directs the Secretary of the Navy to upgrade one of the cruisers starting immediately with FY14 money being appropriated in this bill. The Secretary is also required to give Congress his plan for modernizing the rest of these ships between now and 2021.
Similarly, the shipbuilding community and the Congress have evidently heard rumors of the “premature retirement of capable Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers…” Not so fast! Congress rides to the rescue of the mega-contractors who make their profits building ships. In the bill, the Secretary of the Navy is “directed to prioritize” the modernization of the Arleigh Burke class destroyers.
Finally, the Navy asked for $2.9 billion for the latest attack submarine in the Virginia class of submarines. The Virginia class is built by both General Dynamics/Electric Boat division and Huntington Ingalls Industries. This is a large chunk of the Navy’s overall request of $14 billion in its shipbuilding account. But Congress added an additional $950 million – bringing the total to $3.88 billion for just this one type of submarine. So, even in these days of tightening belts and a dawning realization that defense spending cannot stay on the upswing, Congress added close to a billion dollars to just this one line in the Navy’s budget.
It’s a good time to be in shipbuilding and a bad time for American taxpayers who think enough is enough for Pentagon spending.