WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday announced it nominated Nickolas Guertin to serve as the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, a position that has not had a Senate-confirmed leader since the Biden administration took office.

Guertin currently serves as the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation and is a retired Navy Reserve engineering duty officer.

The Navy has not had a Senate-confirmed leader in this position since James Geurts, who served as assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition from December 2017 to January 2021, when the Biden administration took office. Geurts then began performing the duties of under secretary of the Navy.

Multiple officials have served in an acting capacity since then.

Guertin, if confirmed by the Senate, will face a number of issues. Chiefly, the Navy and Marine Corps are trying to move to a hybrid manned-unmanned fleet, which requires working with new companies specializing in artificial intelligence and autonomy, unmanned craft, communications and networking and more.

Moving these systems from prototyping and experimentation into fielding will be a major focus for the services in the coming years. For his part, Guertin worked in this area when he worked for the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, test and evaluation, leading the service’s experimentation and prototyping efforts.

At the same time, the Navy is negotiating a five-year contract with General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding for as many as 15 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers beginning in fiscal 2023, meant to buy the Navy time to continue development and design of its next-generation DDG(X) program.

The Navy’s most recent long-range shipbuilding plan calls for transitioning to DDG(X) in FY30, meaning the Navy will have to carefully manage the transition between the end of the DDG multiyear procurement in FY28 and the start of the next-generation program two years later.

The service is also anticipated to sign another five-year contract with General Dynamics Electric Boat and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding for the Block VI Virginia-class submarines in FY24. The submarine industrial base is under significant pressure as it struggles with labor and supply chain issues as well as longstanding fragility among its second- and third-tier suppliers, all while trying to ramp up production on the Columbia-class submarine program and maintain a two-a-year delivery rate on the Virginia program.

The sea service is in the planning stages of its next-generation SSN(X) program, meant to begin construction in the mid-2030s. The service is looking at new ways to design and build the submarine that could put less strain on the industrial base, and it’s moving towards solutions like additive manufacturing for submarine construction and repair parts.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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