Skip to content

Sen. Shaheen: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard submarine work critical amid Russia, China threats

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen believes Portsmouth Naval Shipyard — 17 years after surviving a near-closure experience — is "even more important today than it has been for decades."

The state of the world, including Russia's war in Ukraine, is a big reason why.

"As we look at the future of security in the world, the submarine and our ability to negotiate the seas is probably even more important now than it has been in my lifetime," she said.

In an interview Wednesday with Seacoastonline, New Hampshire's senior U.S. senator cited the role the shipyard and its 6,500-plus civilian employees play to repair and maintain nuclear submarines.

Shaheen, a Democrat, pointed to numerous global threats, including "China and the great power competition" and Russia's war in Ukraine.

"Portsmouth Naval Shipyard's work on nuclear submarines is paramount to our national security," she said. "One of the things that I think we're all very proud of with the shipyard is that they are usually on schedule and on budget, which is a real accomplishment. ... The quicker we can get the work done on submarines that need overhauling and get them back out into the ocean, the better in terms of our overall security."

Security in Black Sea a major concern

This week, Shaheen and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, introduced legislation that aims to push President Joe Biden's administration to do more to secure the Black Sea region, citing the impact of Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. Shaheen recently returned from a trip to Spain for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit and also visited Finland and Sweden, which recently were invited to join NATO.

"One of the things I think we've learned from this war in Ukraine is that we need to be paying more attention to places like the Black Sea," she said. "The harbors have been mined and all or much of the grain that was destined to feed parts of the world is now on hold there. And while that grain wasn't going to come out of the port in Odessa (Ukraine) in submarines, the fact is that submarines have a major role in securing places like the Black Sea."

Shaheen, who has served in the Senate since 2009, is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and chair of the Europe and Regional Security Cooperation Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

She called "China's designs on Taiwan and the South China seas" another security concern. "Sea power is a major piece of how we address that, and our submarine fleet is critical," she said.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard's Dry Dock 1 is being expanded as part of major upgrades, increasing its capacity to work on both the Virginia and Los Angeles class submarines. Virginia-class are the newer, larger generation of nuclear submarines.

Base closure threat not present now, but Shaheen isn't complacent

The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process that landed the shipyard on the closure list in 2005 is still a prominent memory for longtime Seacoast residents, especially the thousands of employees whose jobs were saved when the shipyard was removed from the list.

Shaheen and the New Hampshire and Maine congressional delegations, Democrats and Republicans alike, have long advocated for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Shaheen recalled how she and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, both included a provision that "prohibited another BRAC round" in past defense bills.

"We are not doing that right now because there has been so little talk about (base closures) at this time," Shaheen said, quickly adding nothing is being taken for granted. 

"I think it's something we've got to continue to be vigilant about. But given the current threats to our national security, and given the critical role that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and our other shipyards play, I feel like they have done a great job of making the case that they are indispensable."