Washington — The Navy gave Electric Boat good news on Friday in a report that said increasing the production of Virginia-class attack submarines while the shipyard builds a new Columbia-class ballistic missile sub is “viable” and could save taxpayers money.
The Navy Submarine Capacity Report said continuing the two-a-year pace of Virginia-class subs in 2021, when construction will begin on the Columbia-class boat, “is achievable and would provide benefit to Navy’s attack submarine force inventory.”
Fourteen Virginia-class subs have been delivered and 11 additional subs are under construction. A total of 48 Virginia-class subs and 12 Columbia-class subs are planned.
Initially the Navy planned to reduce the two-a-year pace of Virginia-class construction to one in years when construction begins on a Columbia-class sub.
In making its assessment, the Navy analyzed capacity at Electric Boat shipyards in Groton and Rhode Island and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, EB’s partner in the production of the Virginia- and Columbia-class subs. It also studied the shipbuilder’s ability to hire needed skilled workers and the capabilities and reliability of the shipyard’s suppliers.
“This ramp-up in production will require increased management and investment, jointly managed by both the Navy and the shipbuilders, to ensure all aspects of the nuclear shipbuilding enterprise are prepared,” the Navy said.
It determined the shipyards already have planned and begun work to expand their facilities to prepare for the Columbia class, and those plans “remain on track.”
But Electric Boat’s Groton shipyard would have to acquire an additional 275,000 square feet of building space, the Navy said, and the other shipyards would have to expand as well.
The report said both Electric Boat and Newport News “have demonstrated they are capable of hiring and training workers to meet increase volume of submarine shipbuilding.”
The Navy estimated that employment at Electric Boat would increase by 8,400 to 9,000 full-time employees by the year 2030.
But as far as the shipyard’s vendor base, the report was critical.
“Certain industrial sectors have known risks and will require close monitoring to insure combined program success,” it said. “Obsolescence and the diminishing number of quality vendors also require close attention and management.”
The biggest obstacle to the ramp-up is budgetary, the Navy said.
“The major challenge will be the cost to procure additional attack submarines,” the report said.
The Navy was required to study the feasibility of increasing the pace of Virginia-class production by a provision in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
“This report is a strong sign of confidence from the Navy that Connecticut is up to the task of expanding submarine production — confirming that increased Virginia-class submarine production is viable, economical, and essential to securing our seas,” Blumenthal slaid.
Courtney said, “The Navy’s response to the language included in the House 2017 defense authorization report makes clear that increasing submarine production helps fill key capability gaps, lower costs and increase stability in the industrial base.”
Courtney is pressing the Navy to study the feasibility of increasing the rate of Virginia-class production even more — to three in the years EB is not working on a Columbia-class sub.