Trident work approved by House committee

For several years, senior Navy officials and politicians have heavily promoted a plan to convert the four oldest Trident submarines at Subase Bangor into cruise missile or other conventional weapons platforms, instead of being decommissioned.

But funding for that conversion was a sticking point, until now. In fact, the conversion might actually save money.

The Bush Administration initially requested only $116 million in the current fiscal year for conversion of two of the four retiring Trident ballistic missile submarines into cruise missile platforms. But Navy officials stressed to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-6th District, that they preferred to convert all four.

The House Appropriations Committee approved funding for all four conversions on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

The panel approved a request by Dicks to add $463 million to the current year defense budget, money which would be spent on engineering and design work necessary for conversions. By approving all four conversions now, Dicks said, the work likely will cost 20 percent less than if the projects are done separately.

The measure must now be approved by the Senate, which earlier this year demonstrated support for converting four of the Tridents when it passed the Defense Authorization Act.

Dicks said work on at least two of the four conversions — and perhaps an additional sub — will be done at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, adding to the currently projected workload at the yard during the next several years.

“After discussing the issue with the Navy secretary and the chief of Naval operations this year, it was clear to me that we should ultimately preserve all four of these very capable Ohio-class submarines,” Dicks said. “It makes more sense to invest additional funds at this time to accelerate the program and drive the overall cost down.”

The defense spending bill also included:

• $8.7 million for the second increment of funding for the Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Center at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center-Keyport.

• $2 million to extend the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Apprentice Program, which also will cover workers at Keyport.

• $7 million to centralize the Navy’s environmental programs work at a Northwest Environmental Center, which would be operated by Concurrent Technologies Corporation of Bremerton.

• $4 million for Bremerton-based Dimension Four to continue converting Navy technical manuals to digital format.

• $5 million for a Special Needs Learning Center to serve members of the military’s exceptional family member program at Subase Bangor.

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