SECNAV Del Toro Previews Major Amphibious Warship Buy

April 23, 2024 6:57 PM
USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD-28) during sea trials on Oct. 21, 2021. HII Photo

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said he expects “a major announcement” in the next few weeks on a new multi-year procurement agreement to build three San Antonio-class amphibious warships and an America-class big deck amphibious warship at HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi.

The Navy has been negotiating “as low a price as possible” for the ships that the sea services view as essential to future expeditionary missions, Del Toro said at the Stimson Center on Tuesday. Two years ago the Navy and the Marine Corps agreed on the requirement for 31 LPDs and LHAs in the fleet.

Last year, the Office of the Secretary of Defense ordered a “strategic pause” in amphibious ship procurement to evaluate requirements and cost efficiencies.

Complicating matters on Capitol Hill over the size of the amphibious fleet is the Landing Ship Medium, which the Navy will build for intra-theater use by the Marine Corps. Those ships are not included in the authorized 31 LPDS and LHAs.

In discussing the pending announcement, Del Toro mentioned the Modern Day Marine exposition, which opens April 30 in Washington, as the likely venue.

“We’ll do the same thing with the amphibs” as were done with multi-year procurement contracts to build two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding to achieve savings in construction and provide stability to the yard’s workforce planning, he added.

Last month, two Republican lawmakers wrote to the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office about using a multi-year procurement strategy to buy large amphibious ships and save money.

When asked about the possible three-year delay in delivering the first in a new class of guided-missile frigates, Del Toro cited the “real retention problems” at the Fincantieri Marinette shipyard in Wisconsin. The recruiting and retention of welders has been a major factor slowing work across the board in Navy shipbuilding and repair.

USNI News reported in January that Fincantieri is using money from the Navy to issue bonuses to employees across the blue and white collar workforce to incentivise them to stay at Marinette. ,

One step the Navy has taken to speed up work at the Wisconsin yard is sending a design and digitization team from Naval Sea Systems Command to work with Fincantieri as the yard transitions from building Littoral Class Ships to the frigates.

As he has done before, the secretary called for a National Maritime Strategy to address ongoing problems in public and private shipyards and to resurrect commercial shipbuilding,

The future USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD 28) departed Huntington Ingalls Shipyard to conduct Acceptance Trials in the Gulf of Mexico. US Navy Photo

The shipbuilding industry atrophied when the Cold War ended, he said. As the United States declined as a commercial shipbuilder, China surged ahead. South Korea and Japan also invested heavily in modernizing their shipyards to meet expected demand in expected maritime trade.

“We have to rebuild [commercial shipbuilding] one step at a time,” Del Toro said.

As with Marinette, Del Toro said: “the bigger problem than [COVID-19’s impact] is blue collar workers.” He said his recent trip to Japanese and Korean shipyards opened his eyes to the “work there, live there” approach industries in those two nations have to shipbuilding.

“What I took away from this visit was that we must explore any and all opportunities to expand our own shipbuilding capability, through competition, through innovation and industrial capacity,” Del Toro said in March.
The shipyards “actually build the hospitals, the schools, the [child care centers], the bowling alleys, everything else you can imagine to try to attract workers to their shipyards and then retain them.”

He used the same analogies at Stimson on Tuesday. He also called for “opening the spigot a bit” on revising immigration law and issuing visas to attract workers to shipbuilding.

On recruiting, Del Toro said, “I’m calling out to a call for service,” and added that he’s prepared to enlist anyone in the audience who stepped forward.

At the same time the secretary was speaking, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti spoke to another Washington audience about the Navy’s recruiting challenges.

“I’m the mom of a high school senior,” Franchetti said, adding that she knows those students “want to understand the why of things.”

She said that in addition to offering a chance to learn valuable skills from cyber to robotics, the Navy offers enlisted service members and officers a chance to develop their leadership abilities and view military service as an honor, showing courage and commitment.

The Navy missed all its recruiting goals in Fiscal Year 2023, falling almost 7,500 short in enlistments.

“Everything is open to them,” Franchetti said. Picking up on what personnel officials have told congressional personnel panels, the CNO said: “I would like our sailors to sell themselves” in attracting more young men and women to join the service.

“We need to be the world-class employer,” so sailors and their families “feel valued.” Her list of what the Navy needs to become that kind of employer includes decent pay and compensation, “making sure they have a place to live,” “good quality barracks,” not having to live aboard ships all the time, quality food and medical care.

Picking up an old recruiting pitch, Franchetti added: “’Join the Navy and see the world.”

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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