U.S. Army Chief Information Officer Raj Iyer, pictured at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes in December 2020.

Newport News has fully staffed attack sub line, after years of delays

WASHINGTON — The Virginia-class submarine production line at Newport News Shipbuilding is now fully staffed, having taken over from the preeminent Columbia-class submarine program for years.

A larger workforce is one of many factors giving the company confidence that the remaining Block IV Virginia boats will be delivered on their new schedule. Vessels were purchased at the rate of two per year and had to be delivered at the same rate. However, they are only arriving at a rate of approximately 1.2 boats per yearseveral US Navy officials said recently.

Indeed, Newport News Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Electric Boat, which co-build all the submarines, did not deliver a single submarine to the Navy from April 2020 to February 2022.

Boats were already running late when the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem. As the two submarine shipyards – Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia and Electric Boat in Connecticut – increased the size of their workforces in anticipation of a greater workload, they needed to ensure that the chain of Columbia production was fully staffed and stayed on time.

Any shortcoming, then, came across the Virginia program.

“We are fully staffed on Block IV and Columbia, and we are working very hard on execution there,” HII CEO Chris Kastner said Feb. 9 during an earnings call. He also acknowledged that Block IV had experienced schedule and cost overruns, but said the company was eager to deliver the remaining seven boats out of 10 in total and then move on to the Block V contract.

The Block V deal, he added, will bring better profits to the company.

Since the two-year gap in deliveries, the Virginia-class submarine Oregon was delivered in February 2022 and Montana was delivered in March. Newport News plans to deliver New Jersey in 2023 and Massachusetts in 2024.

Electric Boat, which does final assembly and delivery of all other boats, missed an expected 2022 delivery of the Hyman G. Rickover, but is expected to finalize that boat this year.

In an earnings call on Jan. 25, General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic said she had seen a stabilization in the workforce at Electric Boat, after a significant number of shipbuilders very experienced workers retired at the start of the pandemic and the company struggled to attract and retain younger workers.

Kastner repeatedly said on his call that he was optimistic about the future of the Virginia program. He referred to “the stability that is happening in shipbuilding organizations, not only from a labor perspective, but also from a supply chain and inflation perspective. It’s not back to pre-pandemic levels, but it’s definitely stabilized, and that’s what we need to execute. »

The supply chain is becoming more predictable, he added, and Newport News Shipbuilding is working with its suppliers and the navy to get the best schedules possible.

As for inflation, he said the shipyard was happy to see it come down. The company has some inflation protection through the terms of its contracts, but he explained that the company struggles with inflation in overhead costs, including rising insurance premiums, the cost of health care and other interprogram costs that the company had not anticipated in its budget forecast.

Regarding the workforce, Kastner said that “after hiring more than 4,900 artisans in 2022, we expect a similar hiring rate in 2023 while improving our productivity, attendance and overtime to boost performance”.

The company will add about 5,000 people this year to Newport News Shipbuilding and Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi, he said, and hiring and attrition numbers have looked increasingly healthy throughout 2022 and until January 2023.

This has resulted and will continue to result in better cost and schedule performance of ships and submarines built by the yards, Kastner added.

“I am proud to say that we have achieved all of the shipbuilding milestones we highlighted in the second quarter of last year for 2022, and we are maintaining all milestones for 2023. This demonstrates growing confidence in our shipbuilding schedules. delivery and provides a solid platform to continue improving our cost performance,” he said.

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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *