Electric Boat prepares to deliver attack under Oregon, nearly two years after last delivery
WASHINGTON — General Dynamics Electric Boat is just weeks away from delivering the Oregon attack submarine to the Navy, about 16 months after Oregon’s original due date and nearly two years after the Connecticut shipyard has delivered its latest submarine.
This Block IV Virginia-class attack submarine has suffered from a complex web of factors, some related to the COVID-19 pandemic now entering its third year, but most related to the prioritization of the submarine program. Columbia-class ballistic missile mariners, Electric Boat President Kevin Graney said in an update on the yard’s performance.
On the workforce side, he said, the Columbia program — not only a top priority for the shipyard, but also for the Navy and the Pentagon — is “equipped where we need to be right now. moment” to keep Columbia’s first in-class on track for delivery in 2027 and maiden rollout in 2030. But that came at the expense of the Virginia program’s production line.
“To achieve Columbia, we took resources from Virginia to support this. And I think at this point any new people that we add to the company … will be largely dedicated to Virginia. And that’s because Columbia’s workforce right now is pretty stable and will be for the foreseeable future,” Graney said during a Jan. 24 virtual event hosted by the shipyard.
As a result, this means that the newest and least experienced workers are assigned to Virginia’s SSN production line, and any staffing shortages should only affect SSNs. Graney said the training pipeline was halted in early 2020 due to COVID, but restarted in late 2020 and continued to produce new shipbuilders throughout 2021.
Still, like the rest of the job market, Graney said Electric Boat is seeing higher attrition and a tougher time hiring. While not unique to the shipyard, these conditions disproportionately affect the construction of the Virginia SSN.
The Oregon submarine was originally slated for delivery in the fall of 2020, but the delivery date kept slipping. With people and materials prioritized at Columbia, Oregon had material challenges and a higher recovery rate, Graney said.
The Oregon went out for sea trials in December, and Graney said the boat’s propulsion system was “flawless.” There are a few “relatively small items” that remain to be ironed out elsewhere on the boat, he added, but by the end of the week the sub should be back at sea for its final trials with the Navy Board of Inspection and Investigation.
“Once that’s done, we’re expedited to get to delivery – I think the typical lead time from INSURV to delivery is about a week, so we’re ready to have that boat delivered, and I think that the USS Montana will be right on its heels,” Graney said.
Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding each build parts of the submarines and alternate which yard performs final assembly and delivery. Montana goes through this process at Newport News.
Graney said a second submarine, the Hyman G. Rickover, is also on track to be delivered by Electric Boat this year. This would come after a long pause in submarine deliveries: Vermont delivered in April 2020, followed by Oregon and on track for delivery in February 2022.
Although not a primary factor in Oregon, Graney noted that COVID has caused problems for the yard and its workforce.
The workforce is now 86% vaccinated, a figure achieved through incentives rather than mandates, Graney said. Yet the omicron variant of the virus has led to a surge in the number of COVID cases that hit the New England region the earliest in the United States. In the eight weeks since Thanksgiving, Electric Boat has seen its highest number of cases of the entire pandemic, according to Graney. In fact, 42% of all reported cases among employees have occurred in the last eight weeks alone.
“How does it strike us, particularly after the holiday closures that we do between Christmas and New Years, we found ourselves with a lot of people unable to enter due to protocols associated with COVID. And, unfortunately, it has affected our senior ranks – that is, our management ranks, our supervisors, our front-line supervisors and above – disproportionately to rank and record. So hard to lead a team of people when your leader is ‘on the beach’ suffering from COVID,” Graney said.
“I think we’re getting better here with each passing week, each passing day…and I hope to be out of the woods here in terms of any further impact from omicron in the coming week or two,” a- he added.
Despite these COVID challenges, the Columbia program remains ahead of schedule. Graney said Columbia is 15% complete, with die-cast hull fabrication at around 65% and deck fabrication at 86%. Advanced construction work on the second ship of the class, the Wisconsin, began last May despite the official launch of construction before March 2024, which led Graney to remain optimistic about meeting the program’s most important deadlines. .
Yet the prospect of a continuous resolution over a full year is the biggest threat to the Columbia program today — because it’s the one thing the yard can’t control or protect the production line from.
Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat who represents the district that includes Electric Boat, told Defense News after the event that today’s Columbia program is “basically good news” but a year-long CR complete “would be a poison”.
The Columbia program received $4.58 billion in funding in fiscal year 2021, which is the level of funding that would be carried over to another year in the event of a full-year VC. However, the Navy had requested an increase to $5.06 billion, and Congress accepted $5.2 billion in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY22.
For the past several years, the Navy has attempted to protect the SSBN program from continued resolutions by asking Congress for “exceptions” or permission to sign new contracts and spend fresh money despite CR restrictions. Courtney said there are so many moving parts in the program at the moment – from the submarine itself to the expansion of Electric Boat to measures to strengthen the supply base – that it would be too difficult to hide a series of anomalies this year.
“We’ve protected the RC program in the past with anomalies, but if we can’t work out an omnibus [spending package to cover all the FY22 federal spending bills], I’m afraid both sides will just insist on a comprehensive CR [without allowing anomalies] if they feel the other side is not compromising enough,” Courtney said.
Specifically, he said, the NDAA has included money to begin building a new manufacturing plant at Electric Boat that would increase production at the yard. If the submarine industrial base wants to build three Virginia submarines in a year – something included in most future shipbuilding plans, but so far elusive for an industrial base struggling to build two SSNs a year alongside to the Columbia program – this facility will be required, Courtney mentioned.
He said he spoke to House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro’s representative, another Connecticut Democrat, and “Chairwoman DeLauro has made it clear that the main line of the NDAA will not be a contested issue in the negotiations”.
The NDAA includes an additional $24 billion above the figure requested by the Biden administration for defense spending. Courtney said that makes him optimistic that House and Senate owners could reach a defense spending deal that resembles the NDAA’s plan, but added that he fears non-defense issues prevent them from passing spending bills this year.
DeLauro told her she hoped to complete work on the FY22 spending plan by Feb. 12, which Courtney said is “a tall order, but at least they’re talking.” House Speaker’s Rep. Nancy Pelosi told Democrats that getting the spending bills for fiscal year 22 done is the top priority next week once lawmakers return to Capitol Hill, a he added.
Depending on the outcome of those talks, Courtney said the Navy and the submarine industrial base have one more tool in the toolbox to help keep the design and construction of submarines on track. the right way: a sort of prior authorization from the White House to use Defense Production Act authorities strengthen the submarine industrial base. The DPA memo specifically calls out the Virginia SSN program, noting “[e]Ensuring a robust, resilient, and competitive national defense industrial base that has the capability, capability, and manpower to meet the Virginia-class submarine’s submarine combat mission is critical to our national security. – but the entire submarine construction business would benefit from these investments.
The Navy has not officially requested specific dollar amounts for specific projects, but the White House has pre-approved DPA authorities in case the Navy wants to use this leverage. It’s the reverse of how the process typically works, where the services request DPA money from the Department of Defense and the DoD approves the projects, then seeks clearance from the White House.
Courtney said there’s still a “wait and see” element in terms of if and how the Navy will ask to use that authority, depending on what it needs after the FY22 budget. collapsed. But he said Graney’s description of the underwater industrial base as fragile “is something that keeps people awake at night, and the department is certainly acutely aware of that.”
The possibility of “having this tool on hold” is a relief, he said, adding that he hopes – if executed – that the DPA authorities would be used to address the remaining sole suppliers in the subsea supply chain and either strengthen these businesses. or help establish secondary sources for important components.
Megan Eckstein is a naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on US Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported on four geographic fleets and is happiest when recording stories from a ship. Megan is an alumnus of the University of Maryland.