Groton — In the time he has left as the commander of the Naval Submarine Base, Capt. Marc W. Denno said he will “try and fight” for any money that’s left for military construction projects after the budget is cut.
On any given day in 2010 and 2011, $100 million worth of projects were in progress at the base. Given the fiscal climate today, Denno said there will be only a “little bit” of federal funding for infrastructure improvements on all bases, and he wants to set his successor up for success.
The future of the base, Denno said, is “pretty much what’s on everyone’s mind.”
“We are the Submarine Capital of the World. That’s not changing,” he said Friday at a luncheon for the Naval Submarine League Nautilus Chapter, noting that Groton is home to one-third of the Navy’s fast-attack submarines.
The biggest project will be the commissary and the exchange, Denno said, because they involve a lot of moving parts. The Defense Commissary Agency is building a 56,000-square-foot store at the base. The $14.5 million project was originally scheduled to start in fiscal 2010.
A groundbreaking is planned for next month, and it will take about 15 months to build the store for service members, their families and retirees. The exchange, which carries household goods and other items, will expand into the old commissary space.
Denno is also talking with the state about investing in a microgrid to provide a better system for reliable backup power for the lower base and protect high-value assets from outside influences, as well as possibly reduce energy costs. The project is still in the early stages.
The state committed to spend $40 million on infrastructure improvements at the base and has spent nearly $11 million so far. Denno said he plans to invite state legislators to the base after the election to keep the ties strong.
In a visit to the base this week, Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, the chief of naval operations, said the number of submarines in Groton will drop as the military shifts its focus toward Asia and aging attack subs retire more quickly than new ones are built. He said, however, that the Navy still needs three submarine bases along the East Coast.
The Norfolk naval station does not have the capacity to support the submarines from Groton, and it would be too expensive to relocate the submarine school from the base, Greenert said.
Denno was asked Friday at the luncheon whether he could envision a scenario in which all of the fast-attack submarines on the East Coast would be based in Groton. He said no. Later, he said that in his personal opinion, strategically “you try not to put all your eggs in one basket.”
After four years in charge, Denno will turn over command of the base in June to Capt. Carl Lahti, who was the deputy commander of Submarine Development Squadron 12 in Groton two years ago when he was tapped to serve as the commanding officer of the USS Memphis after the sub’s commander was relieved of duty in a cheating scandal. Lahti returned to the squadron in 2011 and is currently working on the Joint Staff in Washington.
Denno, whose tour was supposed to end three months ago, volunteered to serve longer as the base commander because he said he enjoys the job and another captain was not readily available to replace him. He will next assume command of the Submarine Learning Center in Groton.