ARLINGTON, Va. — Following a budget that yielded a record-breaking $31.5 billion in shipbuilding funds for the U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday has one message to ship construction yards: “Pick up the pace.”

This year, Congress made clear the importance of building more ships, Gilday said Jan. 10 at the annual Surface Navy Association conference here.

“I’ve said publicly that I didn’t think that you could put more than $27.5 billion, which was our [fiscal 2023] proposal, into seven shipyards across this country,” he said. “Congress proved me wrong with the $31.5 billion shipbuilding account.”

But, he said, industry hasn’t made clear it can keep up.

Asked after his speech whether industry can ramp up its production, Gilday said “that’s a question that only they can answer.”

“Right now, I see them a little bit behind on some of our production lines,” he continued. “They would tell you … they think they can do more. So my message to them is: Prove it.”

Gilday, during his remarks at the conference, ran through the portfolios of some of the shipyards in the U.S. that build surface ships: Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine is wrapping up its work on the Littoral Combat Ship program and will be focused on the frigate. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works is now fully focused on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, after completing work on the Zumwalt destroyers. HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding has mature production lines for the Burkes as well as amphibious assault ships and amphibious transport docks. And General Dynamics NASSCO is building next-generation oilers.

“We are making investments in ships we really need out there right now,” the CNO said. “We have 80 ships on contract. We have 54 ships across seven shipyards under construction right now.”

That being said, he added, “we’re not necessarily getting what we’re paying for” when it comes to how many ships the Navy is buying annually compared to what industry can deliver.

For example, the Navy is buying Virginia-class attack submarines at a rate of two a year, but General Dynamics Electric Boat and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding are delivering 1.2 a year. Congress just authorized the Navy to buy three destroyers in FY23, compared to the Navy’s request for two, but industry is delivering 1.8 destroyers a year today.

Even as the Navy and its industry partners are beginning to consider the design of the next-generation combatant, the DDG(X), Gilday said “my priority right now is making sure that we get the Flight III DDG lines humming.

“The latest signal from Congress has been three a year; what industry has to do is prove to us that they can produce three ships a year,” he said.

Asked by reporters what the Navy could do to incentivize industry to boost capacity, Gilday said the defense and spending bills — and the nearly $7 billion for three destroyers included in the legislation — should be enough.

“Bath and HII are not producing a combined rate of three DDGs a year. The ’23 budget gave them funding for three DDGs a year. So that’s a bellwether for them and a new target to aim for, and I’m really anxious for them to aim for it and go for it.”

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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