NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Newport News Shipbuilding has a stake in a new and potentially divisive method for funding a future class of submarine, a project considered the Navy’s top priority.
At issue is how to replace the aging fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, often referred to as “boomers,” which play an increasingly important role in America’s ability to deliver a nuclear punch.
Replacing the Ohio-class fleet with new submarines has been deemed so important — and so difficult to afford in tight fiscal times — that Congress has proposed funding them outside the Navy’s $15.7 billion annual shipbuilding budget.
I think it’s pretty important to do so.
Back when the original “41 for Freedom” Polaris/Poseidon SSBN boats were built, the budget was in the regular Navy SCN account. But at the same time, the Air Force budget was also buying not just 1000 Minuteman missiles, but the massive infrastructure investment for them as well. The Army budget of the time kinda took it in the shorts until Vietnam forced their share to go up.
The point is, while it looked like the regular budget was covering the cost of both SSBNs and the rest of the fleet, the reality is that the budget was boosted across the board specifically for strategic programs.
Today, there simply is no other major strategic (that’s a fancy way of saying nuclear) program in the works. But the other services will cry if the Navy suddenly gets a bump in its procurement dollars, on the grounds that a bump for the Navy is a hit to the Air Force and Army budgets.
By isolating the SSBN budget, Congress can avoid that. Further, with even a modicum of sense, it can restrain some of the worst impulses of the procurement nightmare, and impose some level of fiscal sense on the project.
The bottom line is, the SSBN may be a “Navy” program, but in fact it is a national assets, the single most valid nuclear deterrent we have.