Connecticut Builds Solid Defense Foundation
Robert T. Ross
September 30. 2014
April 28 was an historic day in Connecticut when the largest single shipbuilding contract in the history of the U.S. Navy was awarded to Electric Boat. The $17.6 billion contract calls for construction of 10 Virginia-class attack submarines. EB and Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, partners in an innovative teaming agreement, will build two submarines per year from 2014 through 2018.
On May 7 the Department of Defense announced a $1.24 billion contract to Sikorsky Aircraft to replace our fleet of presidential helicopters. Sikorsky, maker of every presidential helicopter since Dwight D. Eisenhower first started using them, will develop and build the first six helicopters. The rest of the planned 21-helicopter fleet is expected to be ordered by 2021, bringing additional work to Connecticut.
On June 26, Sikorsky received an Air Force contract for $1.28 billion for engineering and development on a new combat rescue helicopter. This program is expected to continue until 2029. If all options are exercised, that contract could eventually be worth as much as $7.9 billion.
Thanks mainly to these three major contracts, the total amount of Defense contracts awarded to Connecticut companies or performed in the state during the first half of 2014 was $22.24 billion. For perspective, this is more than double the annual amount for Connecticut defense contracts during the previous highest contracting years - the nation defense build up in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
This is great news for some 50,000 residents who currently work in defense-related industries and the next generation who will come into these jobs in the future. But to be fully appreciated, the long-term significance of these contracts and the contributions of the state's defense industry must be viewed in the broader context of our national security strategy.
Huge defense contracts might seem contradictory in an era of budget cuts as the nation downsizes its military following two long wars. Defense spending in Connecticut and across the nation has been on the downswing since 2012, due to the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq and then Afghanistan, along with congressionally imposed budget cuts to reduce federal deficit levels under control.
Yet, ongoing analysis by the state's Office of Military Affairs shows that Connecticut will be less impacted by the decline in defense spending than most other leading defense contracting states, as the new contracts suggest. Why is that?
The main reason is the products and services produced in Connecticut will continue to play essential roles in the Pentagon's national defense strategy for decades to come. We're building the right things at the right time.
Electric Boat submarines deliver the multi-mission technology of choice for projecting stealthy U.S. presence around the world. World events in recent years have cultivated important new roles for submarines, such as collecting real-time intelligence and silently transporting Special Forces for quick-strike and clandestine missions.
Sikorsky helicopters, the workhorses of recent wars, are a must-have capability for rapid transport of military forces and supplies, particularly in this age of low level conflict with non-state actors.
Pratt and Whitney's jet engines are powering the world's most advanced strike-fighter. The single engine F-35 will become the main air superiority platform for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied nations.
And our major aerospace firms are now operating under the umbrella of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's recent deal with parent company United Technologies to keep their corporate headquarters here in Connecticut.
It's not just the giant well-known prime contractors that should continue to do well, but also the smaller subcontractors throughout our state. EB's Virginia-class attack submarine program alone hires some 600 suppliers in large and small communities throughout Connecticut, many with just a few employees. That number should be expected to increase.
The military products originating in Connecticut will require maintenance over their service lives. This means that for decades, large contracts will come to Connecticut for parts, maintenance, and repair. Former president of EB, John Casey, once described a submarine program as a century-long enterprise from design, construction, operations and maintenance, to decommissioning.
This has been a great year for Connecticut's defense industries. But the deeper satisfaction comes from knowing that the state's defense industrial base will to continue to play a paramount role in our national defense. It's a tribute to the defense industry we have here - talented workforces, efficient management, innovative vision, and superb corporate leadership.
Robert T. Ross is the executive director of the Connecticut Office of Military Affairs.