WASHINGTON – With the US Navy raising its fleet goal to 355 ships and a new president and Congress seemingly poised to lift cost caps and embark on a major new construction program, Ingalls Shipbuilding is signaling its readiness to build those ships.
"We can certainly surge. Our engine is ready," Ingalls president Brian Cuccias declared to reporters Wednesday at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium.
Even with 10 ships in various stages of construction at the 800-acre Pascagoula, Mississippi facility, Cuccias said his yard was only building a portion of what it could do.
"Our capacity is much greater than the ships we have under construction," he said.
"We are ready now to accept the demands of nation of the Navy might have. We are not at capacity – we are at about 70 to 75 percent capacity right now, measured against the management team and the facility we have."
The yard, part of Huntington Ingalls Industries, has about 12,000 employees at the moment, building four different ship classes – DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, LHA 6 America-class assault ships and LPD 17 San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks for the Navy, and Legend-class national security cutters for the US Coast Guard.
"And we have capacity for a lot more in the future," Cuccias said.
"Many years ago Ingalls was not in this position," he noted. "But now, we're accelerating. We're improving at cost and in all the right areas. We know how to manage multiple complex programs all at the same time."
While the Navy recently released a new Force Structure Assessment that raised the fleet goal from 308 ships to 355, the service has yet to make public new fleet architecture studies and a new 30-year shipbuilding plan – documents that will shed much more light on what kind of ships the Navy wants more of and when it would like to buy them. The 30-year plan in particular would provide those details, but it will not be submitted at least until the fiscal 2018 budget is released – something most observers don't expect until sometime in the spring.
Cuccias acknowledged that building more ships isn't just a matter of his shipyard being able to do the work.
"You have to have the funding," he said, "and you have to have the supply base ready to go today."
Still, it was clear Ingalls is eager to get as much work as it can.
"The facility we have is ready to do those surge increases," Cuccias declared. "I can do it today."
Christopher P. Cavas was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.