ARLINGTON, Va. – The defense industry needs to deliver ships faster to justify the boost of billions in shipbuilding funds signed into law last month, the Navy’s top officer said on Tuesday.
For the last two budget cycles, the Navy has maxed out its shipbuilding accounts to what it thinks the major shipyards can deliver despite objections from Capitol Hill, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said during remarks at the Surface Navy Association annual symposium.
“I’ve said publicly that I didn’t think that you could put more than $27.5 billion, which was our proposal, into seven shipyards across this country – five of which build surface ships. I didn’t think we could put any more money against that problem set and Congress proved me wrong with a $31.5 billion shipbuilding account,” he said.
Now that the yards have the money and Congress is directing the Navy to buy three destroyers per year, industry needs to move faster so the service gets its money’s worth, Gilday said.
“My priority right now is making sure that we get the Flight III [Arleigh Burke] DDG lines humming. And so the latest signal from Congress has been three-a-year. What industry has to do is prove to us that they can produce three ships a year, get them out there at three a year. We’re not there yet,” Gilday said.
“My message to industry would be to pick up the pace. And I know it’s easy for me to say that. But we’re paying a lot of money … we’re not necessarily getting what we’re paying for with respect to two or three ships per year. We’re just not at that production rate.”
It’s not just destroyers, according to the CNO. Industry also isn’t building the two attack submarines per year that the Navy says it needs to buy for the next two decades. That build rate is closer to 1.2 boats per yet.
“It’s just not good enough. It’s not good enough in this decade. So I know people are rowing hard and trying. I know that there are constraints with respect to the workforce and we’re trying to get into a better place there. I know that we’re trying to get after supply chain problems, but we just need to do better,” he said.
While the CNO acknowledged that the service needs three to five percent growth in the shipbuilding budget over inflation and must build a larger fleet, he repeated his position that the Navy will not build more ships than it can maintain, so the service avoids the maintenance and readiness problems it has faced in the last decade.
“If we buy ships at a rate faster than we can sustain, we’re going to pay for it and I’ve just been unwilling to go down that path,” he said.
“We’re not going to have a Navy bigger than one we can sustain bigger, than one we can afford. And so that caps us at a certain number of ships, and after that we need to stratify lethality from A to Z and then decide what platforms we’re going to have to consider giving up.”
Asked whether industry is at capacity for what it can build, Gilday said it’s a question for the shipbuilders.
“That’s a question that only they can answer. All I can tell you is right now, I see them a little bit behind on some of our production lines,” Gilday told reporters after his speech.
“They would tell you … that they can do more and so my message to them is: Prove it.”