US Navy Forecasts a Cumulative Delay of More than 11 Years, Lays Out Major Shipbuilding Delays in Rare Public Accounting

Foreign Affairs

Washington: The US Navy April 2 released a rare public accounting of major delays for key shipbuilding programs, with ships from nine programs running behind, in some cases up to three years.

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In total, the Navy forecasts a cumulative delay of more than 11 years, at a time when lawmakers and Pentagon planners agree that the Navy needs to be modernising and growing for a potential conflict in the Pacific.

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The first Columbia-class submarine, built jointly by General Dynamics Electric Boat and HII, is projected to be between 12 and 16 months late. The fourth and fifth blocks of the Virginia-class submarine, also by Electric Boat and HII, are 36 and 24 months late. The first Constellation-class frigate from Fincantieri Marinette Marine is 36 months behind schedule. The future aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-80), built by HII, is approximately 18 to 26 months late.

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These kinds of delays for capital warships are broadly tracked by outside observers using budget justification documents and scattered public statements from program officials. But the sort of wholesale confirmation the Navy is now publicising about the schedule problems facing its most important — and most expensive — programs is a rarity.

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“When [Vice Adm. James Downey] and I started this review, we were looking at it from an internal [perspective]: What we were doing and how we were doing it. We weren’t just looking at industry, we were also looking internally [at] how we were doing our business, how we were managing our relationships with our partners,” Nickolas Guertin, the Navy’s senior acquisition executive, told reporters at the Pentagon.

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“We found that we have issues that need to be resolved as well,” he continued. “But we don’t have all those things completely nailed down yet. We don’t have detailed plans of action, milestones, initiatives – we are identifying and deeply looking into where we are now in a ‘get real, get better’ approach.”

 

The 45-day review had been ordered by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and announced in January. At the time, Del Toro gave few details of the new review’s purpose except to note his concern about problems impacting the Columbia-class submarine and Constellation-class frigates programs.

 

The new document states that “the purpose of the review is to provide an assessment of national and local causes of shipbuilding challenges, as well as recommend actions for achieving a healthier US shipbuilding industrial base that provides combat capabilities that our war fighters need, on a schedule that is relevant.”

 

Notably, the document also includes the names of the prime contractors for each ship class it examined. While that information may not be coveted or secret, the veritable poke in industry’s eyes for their programs’ slip ups align with a series of jabs Del Toro has taken at the defence industrial base in recent months.

 

A spokeswoman for General Dynamics Electric Boat declined to comment. Other shipbuilders named did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

Lastly, the review groups together amphibious ship programs, the fleet oilers and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers as all having “delivery dates late to contract however [are] stable and tracking to program manager estimates.” The amphibious ships, as well as certain destroyers, are produced by HII, while the fleet oilers and destroyers are made by General Dynamics NASSCO and Bath Iron Works.

 

Downey, the commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, the Navy’s primary agency for buying and constructing new ships, told reporters that workforce attrition has continued “in the negative direction in multiple regions. In some places, it’s doubled from where it was at the beginning of the pandemic. In other cases, it’s more than that.”