GROTON, Connecticut — A surge of work is rippling through the building yards of General Dynamics Electric Boat (EB) the likes of which has not been seen since the end of the Cold War.
At the manufacturing facility in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, and the assembly and design facilities in Groton and New London, Connecticut, thousands of employees have been added, with more hires to come. Quonset Point is expanding and erecting new buildings and the Groton waterfront is getting a major refurbishment. The ramp ups are expected to continue for at least another decade, into the mid-2020s and beyond.
All this is in reaction to a heightened tempo of submarine attack boat construction, increased conversion and overhaul work, and the beginnings of the program to build the biggest undersea craft the US Navy has ever fielded — a new class of ballistic missile subs known as the Ohio Replacement Program (ORP), designated SSBN(X) by the Navy.
The split plant production of the Virginia class SSNs was something of a rice bowl operation, ensuring both yards got contracts. It’s not exactly the most efficient method of doing things.
Having said that, EB and NNS are making it work.
In an era where programs such as LCS, the JSF, the Army’s FCS, and the Marines EFV were all over budget and behind schedule, it’s nice to see a major program ticking along so successfully that few people even note its existence.
The LA class submarines were a hugely successful program, and an astonishing 62 boats were built from 1972 to 1996.
The Navy likely won’t receive anything like that number of Virginia class boats over the life of the program, but will continue to maintain a sizeable fleet of attack subs.
The block improvement program is both a blessing and a curse. First, improved capabilities are planned even while deliveries of an already excellent design are being made. That’s a good, rational approach. The downside is that the most efficient method of delivering ships is to freeze a design and then mass produce it. That also has the benefit of providing a homogenous configuration, which is easier to support over a design’s lifetime. In this program, the Navy has decided that the costs associated with block upgrades during production are sufficiently minimal that the improvements are justified going forward. And given that the program has generally stayed on track, it appears that risk calculation was correct.
As an aside, the rumor mill is saying the current Director of Nuclear Reactors is on the inside lane for selection as the next CNO. That might just have something to do with the quiet successes the submarine Navy has been enjoying lately.