your connection to The Boston Globe

Conn., R.I. lawmakers urge Navy to boost sub production

WASHINGTON --Citing national security concerns, Connecticut and Rhode Island lawmakers urged top Navy officials on Thursday to double submarine production to two ships per year as soon as possible.

"The decision we're making this year is not really about the sub fleet today," said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn. "It's about the sub fleet 10 years and 15 years down the road."

Courtney's remarks came at a House Armed Services seapower and expeditionary forces subcommittee hearing. The hearing was requested by the freshman lawmaker, whose district includes the Electric Boat shipyard and the Submarine Base New London in Groton.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., voiced support for doubling sub production, beginning this year.

"The opportunity is there," said Taylor, noting that some key House Democrats support such a move. "The need is there."

The lawmakers, including Rhode Island Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., are hoping to convince the Navy to accelerate its plans to double production of its Virginia-class attack submarine.

Such a move, they say, would bolster national security and prevent more layoffs at submarine-maker Electric Boat, which has facilities in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The Navy has set 2012 as a target date for doubling its sub production. It has also said it wants a force of 48 Virginia-class submarines.

"That's the right size and shape for our navy and our nation," said Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly, commander of the Naval Submarine Forces.

Connecticut and Rhode Island lawmakers have voiced concerns that the Navy seems determined to pull back from submarines in favor of other weaponry. Such a move, they say, could imperil national security as the U.S. fleet shrinks and foreign nations such as China press ahead with sub production. Saving jobs is also a consideration.

"As the governor of Connecticut I am, of course, interested in the jobs the two Virginia-class submarines would bring to our state," Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell said in written testimony submitted to the subcommittee. "But equally important is my concern that the failure to move to two submarines per year will result in layoffs that could, in turn, affect the capability of our industrial base to continue to design and build these magnificent ships."

Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics Corp., is working with the Connecticut and Rhode Island congressional delegations for additional funding for the Virginia-class subs as Congress tackles its annual spending bills. They have made the same push in recent years without success.

Electric Boat president John Casey also appeared at the hearing.

Casey and the lawmakers contend doubling annual sub production would help to reduce the cost for each sub, something the Navy has been pushing for. The production increase would make it cheaper to buy materials while making it easier to keep workers and equipment in place, they say.

President Bush's new spending plan calls for only one sub per year. Lawmakers say the defense budget is strained by spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Electric Boat shares construction of subs with Northrop Grumman Newport News.