Betting on Pentagon, Electric Boat to boost hiring this year

A Virginia-class submarine

General Dynamics Electric Boat

A Virginia-class submarine

Washington –  Confident of the Navy’s commitment to its submarine fleets and to a new class of nuclear subs, Electric Boat on Monday said it will add about 840 positions to its Connecticut workforce this year.

The company said it expects to hire about 1,500 new people in Connecticut, but about 660 of these will replace employees who retire or leave the company for other reasons. A subsidiary of General Dynamics, Electric Boat will also hire 300 new workers for its Rhode Island facilities.

Of the 1,500 new employees in Connecticut, about 400 will be in engineering and design and the rest in construction and support, said General Dynamics spokesman Timothy Boulay.

“The positions are mainly for the continued construction of Virginia-class submarines and for design of the Ohio-class replacement ballistic-missile submarine,” Boulay said.

Electric Boat’s hiring plans for 2016 were released by the company’s president, Jeffrey S. Geiger, during its annual legislative meeting in Groton on Monday. The company currently employs about 14,100 people in Connecticut and Rhode Island. It’s workforce peaked in Connecticut during the 1980s.

Congress gave Electric Boat a boost by appropriating $5.7 billion in a year-end omnibus bill to continue building at the pace of two Virginia-class submarines each year.

The spending bill also allocated $1.5 billion to move forward on the Ohio-class replacement sub.

This new class of nuclear ballistic-missile submarine, which EB hopes to build, would replace the aging Ohio-class boats and cost as much as $6 billion each.

The Congressional Budget Office said the first submarine could cost $13 billion.

In contrast, the Virginia-class attack submarines, which do not carry ballistic missiles, cost about $2.7 billion apiece.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said the budget for the boats is expected to increase to about $8 billion in the fiscal year 2017 budget.

There was other good news for Electric Boat.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon approved an acquisition decision memo for the Ohio-class replacement submarine that moved the program forward because it allows the Navy to release a request for proposals to design the Ohio-class replacement submarine, also known as the SSBN(X).

General Dynamics and its partner in the construction of Virginia-class submarines, the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Newport News, Va., are the United States’ sole submarine makers.

Courtney said the request for bids on the design contract is expected to be released in March, and the Pentagon is expected to make an award in fall of this year.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, said Electric Boat is expected to win that contract.

“Electric Boat was the designer and builder of the very successful Ohio-class, so it’s logical that EB will also be the lead for the next generation,” he said.

The Congressional Budget office says the development phase of the SSBN(X) could cost as much as $15 billion, with another $88 billion for production.

The Pentagon is struggling to find money for all of its major weapons systems. Yet submarines are such a high priority that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter wants to cut the Navy’s program to build Littoral Combat Ships – relatively small vessels designed to operate close to shore – and other weapons programs to  invest in subs.

“What this shows is that submarines are going to be a growth industry in the next decade,” Thompson said.

In addition, Courtney was successful in establishing a National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund that would pay for the Ohio-class replacement submarines outside of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget.

Electric Boat recently purchased a building owned by Pfizer in Groton that Courtney said would be used to work on the SSBN(X) and another contract Electric Boat has with the Navy, the Virginia payload module, which extends the Virginia-class submarine’s hull to add 28 Tomahawk cruise missiles or similar weaponry.

Courtney said the announcement of new jobs in Connecticut is warmly welcomed. The state has recently suffered a very public breakup with General Electric, which says it’s moving its headquarters from Fairfield to Boston.

“This is like music to Connecticut’s ears,” Courtney said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Electric Board employed 14,100 people in Connecticut, but that figure represents employment in both Connecticut and Rhode Island.