General Dynamics Not Yet Planning to Build 3 Virginia Subs Each Year

October 28, 2020 12:36 PM
Virginia-class submarine Delaware (SSN-791) was moved out of a construction facility into a floating dry dock using a transfer car system in 2018. HII Photo

While the Pentagon is calling for the Navy to buy three attack submarines on an annual basis, sub builder General Dynamics Electric Boat isn’t preparing for an increase in production just yet.

“We’ve been talking to our Navy customer about the ability of essentially the supply chain and the facilities to ramp up production, and as you can imagine, we’re developing plans to do that as well,” Phebe Novakovic, the chief executive officer of General Dynamics, said in a Wednesday earnings call.

“But you’ll note that in all of the recent discussions about U.S. national security strategy – in particular the Navy’s articulation of the criticality of the size of its fleet – submarines figure prominently in all of those conversations because they remain a national competitive advantage for the United States,” she continued. “So we’ll continue to work with our customer and we’ll see where that takes us. At the moment, we are not planning for that increase, but if the nation needs it, we’ll accommodate it.”

Novakovic’s comments come several weeks after Defense Secretary Mark Esper called on the Navy to build a fleet of more than 500 ships that would include both manned and unmanned vessels. In unveiling his plan for the future fleet architecture — dubbed Battle Force 2045 — Esper specifically said the Navy should grow its attack submarine fleet and buy three Virginia-class boats each year.

While Esper has discussed his proposal for the fleet at several recent events, the Pentagon has yet to release documents providing details on the blueprint or how the private shipyards and the Navy’s public yards would accommodate building and maintaining a bigger fleet.

Esper’s call for three submarines a year is a shift from the strategy in the Pentagon’s most recent budget request. After planning to buy two boats per year, the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2021 submission only sought one Virginia-class submarine, a request that angered lawmakers.

Asked what sort of openings General Dynamics sees in the unmanned undersea realm in light of Esper’s recent remarks about the fleet, Novakovic said she views the opportunities as two-fold.

“In the first instance, it’s the job of our shipyards to integrate those capabilities into the existing platforms. And we are very good, as you can imagine, about integrating mission payloads into our ships and our submarines,” she said.

“With respect to individual lines of business within the unmanned world, we have – Mission Systems has had a number of lines of business that have been very active for quite some time in the undersea domain and unmanned undersea domain,” Novakovic added. “So I would imagine those continue to grow. It’s all going to be about performance, and their performance throughout testing has been outstanding. So I think there’s a lot more to come on that.”

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne is a reporter for USNI News. She previously covered the Navy for Inside Defense and reported on politics for The Hill.
Follow @MalShelbourne

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