SECNAV Del Toro: Virginia Attack Sub Construction ‘Significantly Behind,’ District of Columbia Submarine 10% Behind Schedule

March 29, 2023 4:41 PM - Updated: March 30, 2023 3:36 PM
USS Oregon (SSN-788) pierside at General Dynamics Electric Boat on Feb. 28, 2022. USNI News Photo

This post has been updated with a statement from Newport News Shipbuilding. This post was updated with additional context for the construction estimate for the Columbia-class program.

Production of the Navy’s first-in-class Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine – District of Columbia (SSBN-826) – is 10 percent behind schedule, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told a House panel on Wednesday.

Likewise, the production of Virginia-class attack boats is slowly improving but is “significantly behind” the target of two submarines per year, Del Toro told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee during a hearing.

Del Toro’s assessment was in response to questions from subcommittee chair Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who cited a January Government Accountability Office study that warned the Navy did not have a clear understanding of the program’s schedule risks. Del Toro contested the finding from GAO.

“We do have clear visibility into the schedule challenges that Columbia faces. She’s currently about 10 percent behind schedule is what she is given the challenges that we’ve faced with COVID and supply chain, not being able to get the advanced procurements that are necessary to be able to fulfill those requirements leads to her being 10 percent behind,” Del Toro told Calvert.
“The shortage of workers in the submarine community and across the nation is obviously a national challenge that we all have to address collectively. I do believe that increasing legal immigration in this country will help the blue-collar workforce, including those top workers that we need actually in the submarine force as well. … We are working very closely with industry to try to close these gaps.”

Following an earlier version of this post, a Navy official clarified to USNI News the estimate to which Del Toro was referring was an internal General Dynamics Electric Boat schedule 74-month schedule that was shorter than the Navy’s contract schedule.

The estimated $132 billion Columbia program is on a tight timeline to deliver the first boomer to the Navy in 2027 so it can complete years of testing before its first deterrent patrol. Navy officials have said repeatedly that there is no margin for schedule slips in the program and prioritized its budget and schedule over every other shipbuilding program.

In addition to Columbia, the Navy is funding the construction of two Virginia-class submarines a year, but has slipped on the delivery pace, Del Toro told the panel. The Navy requested $4.5 billion for two new Virginias in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget.

The construction of Columbia and Virginia is split between General Dynamics Electric Boat in New England and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding, Va., under a teaming agreement that was forged at the start of the Virginia-class program. EB builds the middle sections that include the reactor compartment of both Columbia and Virginia boats, while Newport News builds the bow and stern sections. For the Virginia class, the yards take turns barging the sections to each other’s assembly facilities to join the sections.

Prototype quad-pack missile tubes hull section. General Dynamics Electric Boat Photo

“On the Virginia side of the house … they are significantly behind. They should be at two boats per year. They’re currently [at] around 1.4. They have made some progress in moving in [the right] direction. I’m concerned particularly about the construction of the sterns and bows in Virginia and getting those up to Electric Boat up in Connecticut and integrating them all,” Del Toro said.
“We are holding industry accountable in every which way that we possibly can and working with them at the same time to try to close these gaps.”

In a statement to USNI News, Newport News shipbuilding said, “we continue to work with urgency to deliver the highest-quality submarines to the Navy. We are applying lessons learned from previous Virginia-class submarines and streamlining our processes to execute more efficiently.”

Service leaders also gave updates on the two Los Angeles-class attack boats – USS Boise (SSN-764) and USS Hartford (SSN-768) – that are in for repairs at Newport News and EB, as the Navy’s public shipyards continue to struggle with a submarine maintenance backlog that prioritizes the ballistic missile submarine fleet.

Boise has been out of service since 2017 and the attack submarine has lost its diving certification while waiting for repairs.

Boise is a victim, quite frankly to other higher priority maintenance items that took place with other boats getting them into the maintenance process,” Del Toro said.

The service asked for $600 million in its Fiscal Year 2024 budget to finish the repair work. Hartford is currently undergoing its own repair availability at EB.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told the panel that developing the infrastructure and workforce to maintain submarines at private yards was “absolutely critical to maintaining our capacity for the future.”
Private yards have focused on new construction, while the Navy’s four public yards have repaired submarines. Gilday views the work on the two attack boats as a training program for HII and EB to handle more repair work in the future.

“Investments we’re making now with ships like Hartford and Boise, the return on investment there is yards are going to be proficient at that work in the future. …. We stopped doing submarine maintenance in private yards for well over a decade. We’re starting from scratch again,” he said.
“When you have the most complex machine in the world and you stop and then you try to restart, it takes time to get proficient. That’s why you’re seeing the delays, the delays with the submarines in the private yards. I’m optimistic that we’re going to get back on track.”

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

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