Navy Report: Shipyards Could Boost Submarine Production

By Stew Magnuson
The USS Washington (SSN 787)

Photo: Navy

With careful planning — and a steady funding stream — the U.S. industrial base can support the Navy’s plan to increase the number of Virginia-class attack submarines, a report to Congress concluded.

The Navy wants to boost the number of attack submarines it planned to acquire from 30 to 48, but part of the procurement timeline would coincide with the building of 12 new Columbia-class sea-based nuclear deterrence boats, also known as SSBNS.

The report — “The Submarine Industrial Base and the Viability of Producing Additional Attack Submarines Beyond the Fiscal Year 2017 Shipbuilding Plan in the 2017-2030 Timeframe” — was delivered to Congress in early July, and recently posted on the website of Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn.

The new acquisition plan would require the nation’s two major shipbuilders and its suppliers to build two Virginia-class submarines per year through 2030 as well as the first seven SSBNS. The question Congress asked the Navy to answer was whether the industrial base could handle the extra work.

The answer was “yes,” provided that Congress ensures steady funding, it concluded. “A stable construction plan and adequate funding lead time are critical” to stabilize the industrial base. The Navy recommended multi-year procurements to make sure industry can plan ahead.

“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 shipbuilder enterprise are prepared. The key areas of concern are shipbuilder facilities, work force readiness (manpower ramp up). And supplier/vendor industrial base health,” the report, prepared by program executive office-submarines, said.

General Dynamics Electric Boat is the prime contractor for the Columbia-class submarines, which will replace 14 Ohio-class sea-based strategic deterrent boats. Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding will participate in the design and assembly of some of the submarine’s modules.

Both shipbuilders share in the construction of the Virginia-class submarines, an arrangement designed to maintain the health of the industrial base.

The Virginia-class submarine construction schedule includes the addition of the Virginia payload module, a hull section insert that will provide additional strike capability starting with the second boat scheduled for construction in fiscal year 2019. The report said adding this new capability to the Virginia-class submarine at the same time as the two shipbuilders are in the design phase of the Columbia-class submarine will be challenging.

The first Columbia-class submarine is scheduled to be delivered in 2021, the same year three Virginia-class submarines were expected to be finished. There would be a two-year gap before the second Columbia class is delivered in 2024. Beginning in 2026, the shipyards would be expected to deliver three total submarines per year until 2030.

“Certain industrial sectors have known risks and will require close monitoring to ensure combined program success, such as castings, forgings, large machinery, and engineered components with extensive assembly and testing,” the report warned. “Obsolescence and the diminishing number of quality vendors also require close attention and management.”

All three submarines, along with one aircraft carrier being built every five years, call into question the capacity of the nuclear propulsion vendors, the report pointed out. The three main vendors that supply the power plants to the Navy will “require a mix of facility, equipment, personnel, subcontracting, and/or sub-tier investments to prepare for the increased level of production,” the report said.

Topics: Submarines, Navy News

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