This post has been updated to correct the committee acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker was testifying in front of.
The Navy welcomes the chance to speed up its 20-year effort to revitalize the nation’s public shipyards, the service’s acting secretary said today.
Testifying in front of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker told lawmakers that the service is open to fast-tracking the timeline for its Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP) should it receive sufficient funding to do so.
“I believe the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan – right now, it’s a 20-year plan that’s upward of $20 billion – is something that we could look at accelerating if additional funds were available,” Harker said. “I know there’s been talk by different folks on the Hill about putting that into the infrastructure bill. It’s something that we would appreciate the opportunity to accelerate that program because it is very critical to our success moving forward.”
Harker was referring to a bipartisan legislative effort unveiled this week that would use the Defense Production Act to give the Navy the $21 billion it has been seeking to upgrade the four public yards. Under the Supplying Help to Infrastructure in Ports, Yards, and America’s Repair Docks (SHIPYARD) Act the Navy would have 20 years to spend the money, giving the service more leeway compared to receiving the funds through annual appropriations legislation.
The SHIPYARD Act, if passed, would also allot $2 billion for the private repair yards and another $2 billion for the private construction yards. The thinking is that lawmakers could wrap the legislation into a larger infrastructure package, a Senate aide told USNI News. The bill’s proposal comes as the Biden administration and Congress weigh different plans for a national infrastructure overhaul.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday during the hearing emphasized the need for the Navy to modernize its four public shipyards. Gilday pointed to three areas that are placing strain on the service’s budget and said the shipyards is one of them.
“So the four public shipyards, 21 dry docks – we have not and as the secretary said – this is a once-in-a-century opportunity to upgrade these facilities. And we have to,” Gilday told lawmakers. “We’re putting new submarines in the water – Virginia-class Block IIIs and Block IVs – they’re larger submarines. We need to be able to get them in dry docks.”
“They do the lion’s share of the work on all of our nuclear-powered ships – our aircraft carriers, our ballistic missile submarines, our guided-missile submarines, our SSGNs, as well as our attack submarines,” he added. “And so our infrastructure on those four shipyards is over 60 years-old. So we’re capitalizing those buildings, as well as the dry docks. Based on the support of the Congress, we have nine ongoing [military construction] projects across those four shipyards right now.”
House lawmakers have openly discussed the SIOP timeline, with some suggesting the 20-year time horizon is too long or that the Navy should speed it up. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) – the vice ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and the ranking member of the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee – has long argued the service needs to move faster on the SIOP and even suggested slashing the timeline in half to ten years.
Naval Sea Systems Command chief Vice Adm. Bill Galinis told the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee last month that his team is evaluating the potential for a 10-year and 15-year timeline for the SIOP.