Submarine Supply Chain Largest Barrier to Improving Virginia Attack Sub Schedule, Says Boykin

May 8, 2023 6:19 PM
Newport News Shipbuilding president Jennifer Boykin speaks at the christening of attack submarines Massachusettes on May 7, 2023. HII Photo

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – Availability of parts, not people, is the largest barrier right now to catch up with the delays in constructing Virginia-class nuclear attack boats, company officials at submarine builder Newport News Shipbuilding told USNI News.

Based on the latest estimates from the Navy, Newport News and Electric Boat, industry is delivering 1.2 Virginia-class attack boats a year and won’t reach the two-boat-per-year cadence until 2028.

While work stoppages and worker attrition due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been cited as reasons for the delay in submarine production, availability of parts and materials has become the primary reason for delays, Newport News president Jennifer Boykin told USNI News on Friday.

“COVID had an impact because we had such a large percent of the workforce that wasn’t here during the six months in 2020. Many of our suppliers, if not most, were struggling with some of the same issues. Many of our suppliers got off track because they didn’t have [the] workforce,” she said on Friday, a day ahead of the christening of Massachusetts (SSN-798).
“Post COVID, not as many people came back … Most of our suppliers are really working, doing what they can to increase their workforce pipeline.”

While Newport News is doing well with the workforce for the moment, its suppliers are dealing with their own workforce issues that have increased the time it takes for parts to get to the yard.

Workforce and supply chain concerns have prompted the Navy, HII and General Dynamics Electric Boat to retool the schedule for the Block V Virginia-class.

“The intent was to incorporate some of these challenges,” Boykin said.

In March, USNI News reported that the Navy estimated it would take until 2028 for EB and Newport News to build two boats per year. In March, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro stressed the delays to the Virginia program before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

“On the Virginia side of the house … they are significantly behind. They should be at two boats per year. … 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,” he 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.”

Compounding the slip in the program schedule, the Navy is almost one year late in issuing advanced procurement contracts for the next two Virginia-class Block V attack boats. The impasse is over an insurance dispute between the submarine shipbuilders in the event of an accident occurring either during construction or operations aboard attack boats that field Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.

Industry and service officials have told USNI News they are close to reaching an agreement to proceed on the next two boats, but the delay in procuring material has hurt the program.

Without addressing the insurance issue directly, Boykin renewed a call from industry for predictable funding for the program, particularly in procuring advanced materials.

“The suppliers clearly could have and would have started, a year or more ago if the funding had been there,” she told USNI News.
“The worst thing we can do as an enterprise is starve the beginning. That’s part of what we’re really working with the Navy on to get advanced funding to those suppliers who are already struggling with workforce.”

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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