The U.S. Navy’s fleet of nuclear submarines is experiencing “significant” maintenance delays as a result of ongoing mandatory sequestration cuts to the Navy’s maintenance budget, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) said on Wednesday.
Most of the Navy’s nuclear submarine repair work is done at four public shipyards, Vice Adm. William Hilarides told an audience at the annual Naval Submarine League Symposium in Falls Church, Va.
The workload for the public shipyards mounted as the size of the nuclear aircraft carrier fleet increased and as the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines began their refueling overhauls in 2001.
Hilarides said that the uptick in work coincided with a hiring freeze as a result of sequestration.
“The hiring freeze was only technically for a couple of months, but it was almost nine months between when they told us to stop hiring and before I got permission to bring in the first new worker,” Hilarides said.
“That’s not hiring for attrition, that’s hiring at all.”
That means that out of a total work force of 30,000, the Navy was 2000 workers short of its needs. “Not surprisingly, things started to go long,” he said.
The impact has already been felt on the attack submarine force, which has seen “significant” delays.
Recently, the impacts have been showing up on the ballistic missile submarine force too.
“We will not catch those schedules back up,” Hilarides said.
The Navy is trying to hire more workers, but qualified workers who have experience are in high demand and there are not enough of those to go around.
Hilarides said the Navy is training apprentices, but that takes time—and the result is a relatively green workforce.