Subs Key Part Of Force Projection, Panetta Says
Secretary of Defense Visits Electric Boat
By James Mosher
November 17, 2011
GROTON, Conn. — Submarines will remain a key part of national defense even as the Pentagon reduces its budget amid widening national deficits, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Thursday during a visit to Electric Boat Corp.
“The threat from weapons of mass destruction is not going anywhere,” he said during a dockside address at the Groton shipyard in which he took questions from workers. “When it comes to technology and weapons, we will continue to invest in those things.”
Panetta conceded the need for some reductions at the U.S. Department of Defense but said a congressional supercommittee will have failed if it doesn’t try to reform entitlement spending. Defense comes from the portion of the federal budget known as discretionary spending.
“If you’re serious about the budget, then you have to go after three-quarters of the budget,” Panetta said, wearing a Connecticut Navy cap and flanked by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, Lt. Gov Nancy Wyman and EB President John Casey. Jay Johnson, CEO of EB’s parent company, General Dynamics Corp., was also there to greet Panetta.
Robert Gates, Panetta’s predecessor, was the last defense secretary to visit EB, when the USS Missouri was launched two years ago. The last to tour the yard was Clinton administration Secretary William Cohen.
Panetta was led aboard the USS Mississippi by Casey, who explained the close cooperation between the Navy and EB in preparing a submarine for launch. The Mississippi is due to go into service Dec. 3.
The ship is scheduled to be delivered a year ahead of schedule and $50 million under budget, Casey said while introducing Panetta to several hundred workers.
“With the budget coming under increasing pressure, we’re fortunate to have such a capable secretary of defense,” Casey said.
Maintaining EB and its suppliers, some of them Eastern Connecticut-based businesses, is a key element in economic advancement as well as national defense, Panetta said.
“We absolutely have to protect our industrial base,” he said.
Cuts in veterans benefits should be off the table in any budget resolution, said Panetta, a former U.S. Office of Budget and Management director.
“The key point is that we cannot break faith with those who served in the military,” he said to applause.
If the supercommittee fails to reach an agreement, automatic cuts totaling 23 percent of the defense budget will take place, something Panetta labeled as “crazy.”
“It’s going to decimate the military,” he said. “This country will face serious challenges. We can’t let that happen.”
Replacements for Ohio-class submarines could be cut to 10 from 12, Courtney said after Panetta’s speech.
“There’s still going to be competition within the Pentagon,” he said. “The intensity over this is off the charts.”
Ken Delacruz, president of the Metal Trades Council, expressed worry over ongoing job losses in submarine maintenance because of slowing orders. Another 52 workers are scheduled to be let go in January.
“We are very concerned about the atrophy of skill sets,” he said.
Panetta responded: “We need to have an agile, more flexible force. I can’t be mobile without an industrial base. I need to protect those skills.”