February 25, 2024
Stick to submarine schedule, US lawmakers tell Biden


If the US doesn’t meet its submarine building goals, Australia can’t be sure it’ll get the three nuclear-powered boats it’s been promised, prominent US lawmakers have argued in a letter to Joe Biden. 

Four high-ranking members of the US House Armed Services Committee wrote a letter to the White House last week urging the president to stick to a schedule of building two Virginia-class submarines per year. 

“Now is not the time to insert instability in the supply chain with uncertainty in procurement rates,” the congressmen wrote. “Any deviation from the planned cadence of the construction and procurement of two submarines per year will reverberate both at home and abroad, with allies and competitors alike.”

The letter came ahead of the delivery of a budget proposal for the 2025 US fiscal year. 

“The FY2025 budget will come at a pivotal time for the Virginia-class submarine program and sustaining our unmatched edge in the undersea domain,” the letter stated. 

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According to USNI News, a website run by the US Naval Institute, American defence officials “have been frustrated with the pace of submarine construction, which is more than 400 months behind as of last year”.

According to that website, several other military programs are competing for funds in the coming budget, including drone and munitions capabilities officials deem necessary in case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. 

The politicians who signed the White House letter, Republicans Mike Rogers and Trent Kelly, and Democrats Adam Smith and Joe Courtney, said submarines needed to be built at a steady rate to assure Australia the US is committed to AUKUS.

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“The AUKUS partnership relies on our nation’s ability to sustain a consistent build rate for attack submarines so we can fulfill our obligation to Australia while meeting our own force structure requirements,” they said in a media statement announcing the letter. 

“It is imperative to maintain a steady two-per-year procurement cadence to assure our partners of our ability to meet commitments and sustain our unmatched edge in the undersea domain.”

The current plan is for Australia to purchase two second-hand submarines in 2032 and 2035, before buying a newly-produced one in 2038. 

As Crikey reported last year, selling Australia submarines would mean the size of the US fleet would be reduced, a prospect that’s not universally popular in Washington. 

The US has recently averaged between 1.2 and 1.3 new Virginia-class submarines built per year.

Is the US willing and able to hold up its end of the AUKUS arrangement? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.