Senate Bill Would Create Separate Fund for New Trident Submarine

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Wyoming approaches Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., in January 2009. A key Senate defense panel on Thursday approved legislation that would establish a separate fund for financing the construction of a successor fleet.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
May 27, 2014, 6:26 a.m.

A Sen­ate de­fense pan­el wants to cre­ate a sep­ar­ate fund to un­der­write the na­tion’s new nuc­le­ar-armed sub­mar­ine fleet, a step the House also sup­ports.

The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee’s mark-up of its an­nu­al de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion le­gis­la­tion calls for the es­tab­lish­ment of a “Na­tion­al Sea-based De­terrence Fund” to fin­ance the con­struc­tion of new sub­mar­ines to re­place today’s Ohio-class bal­list­ic mis­sile ves­sels, ac­cord­ing to a de­tailed pan­el sum­mary of the bill re­leased on Fri­day.

The Demo­crat­ic-con­trolled com­mit­tee ap­proved the le­gis­la­tion on Thursday by a near-un­an­im­ous vote. On the same day, the Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled House passed its own ver­sion of the fisc­al 2015 policy-set­ting bill that also in­cluded lan­guage or­der­ing the cre­ation of a spe­cial fund to pay for the new “SSBN(X)” fleet.

The House le­gis­la­tion au­thor­izes the De­fense De­part­ment to trans­fer up to $3.5 bil­lion to the Ohio-class re­place­ment ac­count  from “un­oblig­ated funds” au­thor­ized for fisc­al years 2014 to 2016. Mean­while, the Sen­ate bill would au­thor­ize an ini­tial $100 mil­lion to get the fund go­ing.

Con­gres­sion­al sup­port for cre­at­ing a sep­ar­ate fund for the Ohio-class suc­cessor stems from con­cerns that the sub­mar­ine-build­ing ef­fort could eat up too much of the Navy’s over­all ship­build­ing budget. The pro­ject cur­rently is in the design and de­vel­op­ment stage, with con­struc­tion of the planned 12 new stra­tegic sub­mar­ines ex­pec­ted to start in fisc­al 2021. The ves­sels are to be armed ini­tially with the Navy’s nuc­le­ar-tipped Tri­dent D-5 bal­list­ic mis­sile.

The latest moves in the two cham­bers come on the heels of skep­ti­cism by a key sup­port­er of the sep­ar­ate-fund­ing idea for new sub­mar­ines, Rep­res­ent­at­ive Randy For­bes (R-Va.), who said re­cently that the ap­proach would be un­likely to gain full con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al this year.

Mean­while, the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee also ap­proved boost­ing funds for the Ground-based Mid­course De­fense sys­tem to the tune of $30 mil­lion above the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest. The ad­di­tion­al money is to be used “for im­prove­ments in re­li­ab­il­ity and main­ten­ance” of the an­ti­mis­sile pro­gram, ac­cord­ing to the sum­mary re­port.

The GMD pro­gram — com­pris­ing 30 Ground Based In­ter­cept­ors de­ployed in Cali­for­nia and Alaska, plus a net­work of sensors —  is the coun­try’s prin­cip­al line of de­fense against a lim­ited long-range bal­list­ic mis­sile at­tack. However, it has had a num­ber of re­cent test­ing prob­lems that have been so troub­ling that the Pentagon’s Mis­sile De­fense Agency in March an­nounced it would re­design the in­ter­cept­or’s front-end kill vehicle.

This comes as the mil­it­ary is plan­ning to pro­cure an­oth­er 14 in­ter­cept­ors for field­ing in Alaska, in re­sponse to a pos­sible mis­sile threat posed by North Korea.

The draft Sen­ate le­gis­la­tion would or­der the Pentagon to “de­vel­op a ro­bust ac­quis­i­tion plan” for the re­design of the kill vehicle, which uses kin­et­ic en­ergy to des­troy in­com­ing bal­list­ic mis­siles, in or­der “to provide con­fid­ence that it will work in an op­er­a­tion­ally ef­fect­ive man­ner,” the sum­mary states.

The bill also would man­date that the De­part­ment ad­here to the “fly-be­fore-you-buy” ap­proach for af­firm­ing through test­ing the sound­ness of bal­list­ic mis­sile de­fense tech­no­lo­gies be­fore they are pur­chased or de­ployed. The Mis­sile De­fense Agency has come un­der re­peated cri­ti­cism from in­de­pend­ent ex­perts and by Con­gress’ in­tern­al watch­dog for not suf­fi­ciently fol­low­ing this ac­quis­i­tion strategy in its de­vel­op­ment and ex­pan­sion of the Ground-based Mid­course De­fense pro­gram.

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