Courtney Renamed Chair of Navy Oversight Panel

The Day

By: Julia Bergman

February 3, 2021

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, has been reappointed chairman of the congressional subcommittee with oversight over a broad range of Navy and Marine Corps programs at a time of great demand for submarines in U.S. national security policy and as a new presidential administration takes over.

In a statement Wednesday evening, Courtney said he was honored to continue his work on “one of the most productive and bipartisan panels in Congress.”

Courtney was first selected to lead the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee in January 2019, after Democrats took control of the House following the mid-term elections. He has served on the committee since 2007 and was the so-called ranking member, or second in charge, from 2015 through 2018.

Over the past two years, Courtney, whose district includes Electric Boat, has presided over the debate for a bigger Navy, and last year successfully fought to restore an attack submarine that was cut under the Trump administration’s budget, which he argued would have had far-reaching consequences on the submarine industrial base.

This year, a top issue will be wading through the plan, released at the eleventh hour by the outgoing Trump administration, for a 500-ship Navy consisting of both manned and unmanned vessels. The service currently has just under 300 active ships.

“How you execute that is the question they forgot to tell us on the way out the door,” Courtney said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The architecture and composition of the fleet has some merit because it points in the direction of where shipbuilding should go, but the logistics of achieving those numbers don’t add up.”

Take the proposal to build three attack submarines per year, as opposed to two, which Courtney supported several years ago before EB began construction on a new class of ballistic missile submarines.

“To go to three attack submarines a year requires more facilities. There’s no capacity for that,” he said. “How much is that going to cost to build out new facilities and how long is that going to take? They completely avoided those questions.”

Kathleen Hicks, Biden’s pick for deputy secretary of defense, also questioned the logistics of the 500-ship plan during her confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Courtney said he still expects the new administration to be supportive of plans to expand the Navy and submarine force. The Biden administration's budget, including its proposals to fund the Pentagon, could be unveiled as late as April, Courtney said, due to a lack of cooperation from the Trump administration during the transition. That will put the subcommittee on a more expedited timeline to do its work.

"The budget is when the real gong goes off," he said.

Advancements by Russia and China in their undersea fleets have driven demand for more U.S. submarines, and Courtney, in his role as chair, is in a key position to advocate for funding for those programs in Congress.

Federal lawmakers approved $11.6 billion this fiscal year for submarine programs, including funding to construct two Virginia-class attack submarines and for the first of 12 planned ballistic missile submarines.

Courtney sees that funding remaining steady this year but acknowledged that cuts will likely be made to other areas of the defense budget to pay for Navy shipbuilding priorities. The pandemic also will put pressing demands on the federal budget, which, in turn, will “put downward pressure” on the defense budget, he said.

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