Thank you, Admiral Mies. I can’t imagine a greater honor than to be introduced by Admiral Mies, whose contribution to our military and our nation are legendary around the country and particularly in our community. I know that Jeff Geiger of Electric Boat is here today and a number of extraordinarily distinguished individuals who have contributed so much: Admiral John Richardson, Vice Admiral Mike Connor, Vice Admiral Terry Benedict, and Rear Admiral Joe Tofalo, Rear Admiral Dave Johnson—all very distinguished members of our military establishment.
I am proud to serve on the Armed Services committee and also the Veterans’ affair committee. I am somewhat limited in time today because, as many of you know, we are considering, literally as we speak, Senate Bill 1982, the Veterans’ Affairs Comprehensive Measure that has come to the floor. I am helping to lead that effort because I am a member of the Veterans’ Affairs committee and actually sought to be on the Veterans’ affairs committee as I also asked to be on the Armed Services committee. Because, not only of my personal interest, but also I happen to have two sons; one who served in the Marine Corps Reserve and was deployed to Afghanistan, and he is now back, fortunately. The other is a Navy officer going through training in Coronado. He has told me that I can’t talk about what he’s doing. That’s not the first time that one of my four children has told me I can’t talk about what he or she is doing. But I’ve very proud of them and proud to be here with such great military veterans and really the folks who make America the strongest and greatest nation in the world.
Washington can be a very frustrating and sometimes infuriating place, but I try to look at the bright side. I don’t know if you’ve heard this story about the gentleman who had a friend opening a new branch bank, and he decided to send flowers to his friend on the occasion. And he sent flowers. The friend looked at the flowers, thought they were very nice and then looked at note that went along with it, and the note said, “May you rest in peace.” Needless to say, he was a little bit curious, so he showed this note to his friend, and the friend of course was absolutely mortified. He went down to the florist, and said, “How can you possibly send that kind of note?” The florist said, “Well, you’ve got to look at the bright side. Somewhere at a grave site, there is a beautiful bouquet with the note saying, “Welcome to your new location.” So you have to look at the bright side.
We face a lot of challenges, as you well know having seen the new budget that’s come from the President. We have to do more with less. We’ll have a different kind of military, winding down the wars, downsizing the Marine Corps and our armies to levels we haven’t seen since before World War II. But fortunately, those budgets provide for a very robust submarine program. And I say that not just because they’re made in Connecticut, and I know Rob Wittman is here from Virginia, and you’ve heard from him. It’s not just a Connecticut interest, it’s a national interest. And I’m really proud and always excited to talk about submarines because I’ve learned a lot about them. Everything I’ve learned just further supports and reinforces what I have come to think of the submarine fleet being absolutely central and essential to our strategic interests.
Here in Connecticut we are very proud to make submarines. And we have some of the great workforce and some of the greatest companies involved. It’s not just Electric Boat, of course. It’s all of the suppliers, all of the chain of manufacturing who make parts of those submarines. It is really rooted deeply in the fabric of our manufacturing base in Connecticut. We make submarines and we make the parts and components that go into the submarines. The folks who work on those submarines are among the most dedicated civilian manufacturing workforce in the world. It’s part of our DNA at this point that we make submarines in Connecticut, and we’re proud of it. But it should be part of the nation’s DNA that we are committed to a strong Submarine Force.
I don’t need to tell anybody here the critical part that submarines played in the Libyan operation. Just to take one example: USS FLORIDA delivering force on target, knocking down the door, softening the Libyan forces in an extraordinarily precise and strategic way—virtually unknown to the public. If you ask about the USS FLORIDA off the coast of Libya, you might well get, “What? A submarine in the desert?” Few people understand the role submarines play in delivering special operators or gathering intelligence or of course as a deterrent. The OHIO-class submarines are one of the most—I’m tempted to say the most versatile and diversely valuable platforms that we have in the military today. In preserving the submarine manufacturing program, I’m proud of the fact that they’re made in Connecticut, but I am equally determined that wherever they’re made, we need them. Wherever they’re manufactured, we need those submarines.
We face a growing threat in the Pacific and the shift to the Pacific is, I think well-founded, but we also have to be mindful that the 60/40 split of our submarines between the Pacific and Atlantic should not ignore the Middle East and should also take into account the growing threat elsewhere in the world from submarine manufacturers of all different types. Asymmetric threats can be presented to our merchant fleet in parts of the world where we may be vulnerable. I’m on the Commerce Committee and I’m head of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee which is railroads, roads, bridges, but also happens to include the merchant marine, by some quirk of fate. So I’m very mindful about the potential threats to our merchant fleet that may be posed at sea from Submarine Forces around the world, including the Chinese to be very blunt.
At last estimate, the Chinese have increased their military spending at an annual of 9.7%, a lot of it going into submarines. So we’re not alone in this recognition about the versatility and strategic importance of submarines, and we need to maintain our superiority, not just by a little but by a lot. We have that superiority now. There is nothing to compare with the submarines made in the United States of America, but you know, it is a continuing effort that requires our focus and priority.
That is one of my missions on the Armed Services Committee. What does that mean in specific terms? Well, I’m here to ask for your support. I probably don’t need to ask for it, but I’m going to ask for it anyway in three specific areas. First of all, we need to continue developing the Virginia-class force. In fact, we need to contract as soon as possible without delay for a completion of the Virginia-class Block IV series. Our Los Angeles-class ships have a history that is rich and impressive, and they’re going to reach their service limit. So we need to move forward on that Block IV series of the Virginia-class as soon as possible.
Second, the Virginia Payload Module must be incorporated in the Block V series insuring that we fill gaps in capability that will arise as the Navy’s four guided missile submarines are retired in the 2020s. In the most recent round of congressional appropriations, the program received its full funding of $59 million. But that’s just a small part of what needs to be appropriated. Millions more are needed to make it a reality. And the focus again, is to incorporate the Virginia Payload Module into the Block V series.
Third, we certainly need to proceed with the Ohio-class re-placement program. We’ve pursued this goal for years. Many of you know a lot more about this pursuit than I do. I’ve only been in the Senate for three years. And the Navy conducted a cost control study in 2007. It was over the award of a contract for the missile compartment design of the Ohio-class replacement. That happened in December 2008. More than four years ago. The Navy has yet to confirm an Ohio replacement program, even though we’re supposed to be entering into the design phase this year. It is absolutely essential for us to meet our goals for 2029, and we need to initiate this program no later than 2016. I know these dates seem far out, but everybody in this room knows that strategic design, planning, commitment of funding, can’t be done the month before or the year before. We need to face our responsibility in these areas. These goals are profoundly important, but they are attainable. They are feasible even in the time of fiscal austerity that we face right now if we understand and we make the rest of America understand how important they are. That’s a goal that overrides everything; the education, awareness, consciousness that we need to create. And I commit to you; I talk about submarines whenever I have the opportunity. In Connecticut, outside Connecticut, because I believe that we need to raise that awareness and spread the consciousness.
Let me just finish on this note: we’ve been talking a lot about the hardware, the manufacturing. Subs are no better than the men and women who run them. And I want to give a shout out to the extraordinary men and women who are here today who serve our United States Navy. It doesn’t hurt that I have a son who’s in the Navy, but I think that we need to be mindful of the obligation that we owe to the men and women who serve and sacrifice in an all-volunteer force that have been at war for us for thirteen years. As a United States Senator with a son in the armed forces, for a while I was the only one. Then one of two. I’m now one of three. Like a lot of America, our Congress has not been engaged or even touched by the wars that we’ve fought, by the sacrifice and service of men and women who volunteered to keep us free. And that’s true of our submariners as much or more, and because they are the silent service, we don’t see them a lot. We don’t hear from them, but I hope that we will continue to recognize the obligation that we owe to our veterans, and that we are debating right now on the floor of the United States Senate. We have to keep faith with all of our veterans and make sure that we leave no veteran behind.
When it comes to the invisible wounds of war, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, or the horrific visible wounds, we need to make sure that we provide the healthcare, deal with the disability claims backlog and eliminate them, provide skill training and job opportunities. There is no excuse for the greatest nation in the history of the world to have young veterans unemployed at a higher rate than their contemporaries who have chosen to just stay here and go on about their careers. Not saying they should necessarily be given a free pass, but we should not tolerate our veterans being unemployed at a higher rate than their contemporaries who have not served. I know that I have a lot still to learn about this subject, and I look forward to hearing from you, working with you, listening to you about the needs and challenges that we face together and I thank you for your service to our nation. Thank you very much. I’ll be happy to take a couple of questions as long as you don’t make me miss a vote…or not. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Senator. Jay Donnelly. Do you see any likelihood that the Congress will agree to another round of BRAC closures? I know Groton suffered a near-death experience in an earlier round, and I just wondered if you could comment on the possibility that might be in the future.
Sure. Well, I asked this question of the proposed nominated Deputy Secretary. We had a back-and-forth about it, and I see no chance right now that the Senate will approve a BRAC in this session. Now, that’s based on conversations with my colleagues. I’m not telling anything you don’t know already that there’s a lot of skepticism, and I think very well founded, because the last BRAC, according to some analysis, actually cost more than it’s achieved in terms of saving. These BRACs are not without huge expenses and I believe that the historical pattern indicates that the expenses outweigh the benefits, at least as we’ve conducted them so far. So, I will oppose them vigorously. Connecticut was fortunate in the last go-round to preserve our Sub Base, and I think that the proposal to eliminate it, which we had to fight, indicates the kinds of weaknesses in the process itself. Putting aside Connecticut’s interests in our Sub Base, I think that the BRAC process is not going to be approved by this Congress, despite the recommendation that’s been made by the Secretary of Defense.
Question: Yes, sir. My name is Michael Jabaley and I asked Representative Wittman this question this morning so to be bipartisan and bicameral, I’ll offer you this same question. In 2013, the Budget Control Act brought us sequestration for ten years; the bipartisan budget agreement gave us some relief in ’14 and ’15, so I have two questions: Do you think the bipartisan budget act has set us up for appropriations bills to be enacted on time this year so that we won’t have a continuing resolution this fall? And then the follow-on question is, the BBA of course, only covers ’14 and ’15. Do you see the appetite for a similar-type agreement to go beyond that or will sequestration return in full-force in ’16?
I think it has set us up. I don’t know what Rob Wittman said. I’ve heard a number of my colleagues say when they’ve been asked questions about the future of legislation, if you’re in the Congress; you have to be an optimist. For a long time, twenty years to be exact, I was a state prosecutor and before that, a federal prosecutor, so I saw a lot of the stuff that could make you pessimistic. But, I want to sound optimistic and say that I really think on our national defense and on our budget generally, there’s a feeling that shutting down the government really is not a great idea. If you look at the politics of it, whoever thought they were going to gain by it, it didn’t work out. Because the country, rightly, said, “What are you doing?” And so I think anything that involves sacrificing strategic, vital interests of the United States, because of some proposed or suggested political gain, I think has a high hurdle to overcome even with the partisan gridlock and paralysis that we see all too often. I hope that we’re on a path to approved budgets, just as we did the debt ceiling, without a lot of turmoil and anguish and angst and that people will understand. When I came to the United States Senate, I thought to myself, budgets? That’s something that we do routinely, right? We disagree about the numbers, but we approve budget and we approve debt ceiling. And so I hope that will go forward
Thank you very much to all of you. Thank-you for your service