WASHINGTON – Good Evening, Dirfters
I had a plan for today’s Drift, and then it changed. The Navy decided, in a most inconsiderate way, to throw a wrench into my plans to write about dynamic force employment, 2nd Fleet and the changes to the Navy’s command-and-control structure.
Yes, they decided to buy a pair of Aircraft Carriers and I figured I better write about some of the issues around that instead, because I have lots to say about it. This may be a story in the coming days, but for now, I’ve laid out some of the big takeaways from today’s big (but anticipated) announcement.
Before we dive in, however, I do want to thank you all for the support. I’m very excited to see how many people are reading and engaging with my little newsletter project. It means a lot so, again, thank you. And drop me a line if you have any suggestions or questions, my email is linked at the bottom.
The Navy announced today that its buying two carriers simultaneously. It’s a nearly $15 billion contract. Here is the nitty-gritty:
- The carriers will be built four years apart, vice the normal five-year centers.
- The carriers are still being funded incrementally, the way carriers are always funded.
- The Navy expects to save $4 billion this way.
- The work will be done by February of 2032.
- The Navy is definitely sure it still needs aircraft carriers.
James Geurts, the Navy’s top acquisition official, held a roundtable to announce the buy this afternoon, even though word had started to trickle out earlier in the day by way of a press release from Rep. Rob Wittman’s office congratulating the Navy on signing the contract. Geurts laid out in his opening statement what he believes the benefits will be.
The Quote: “Authorizing and appropriating incremental funding for both ships in a single year enables the Navy and our shipbuilding partners to maximize opportunities for material procurement savings through quantity discounts for material; level loading of industrial base capabilities and resources; identifying means to best capture learning and labor efficiencies between ships; minimizing the effects of inflation/escalation; and taking advantage of stable design through multiple builds (plan once, build twice).”
The View from Ingalls
Huntington Ingalls held a conference call with Jennifer Boykin, President of Newport News Shipbuilding shortly after the official announcement went out and there were some interesting details that I thought I’d string together.
Boykin said structuring the contract this way will have cross-over benefits in other programs.
The Quote: “It will benefit other Navy shipbuilding programs as well. The stabilizing effect this contract has on the national nuclear shipbuilding supply base is positively impact other programs. Specifically for Newport News, the Virginia class and the Columbia class submarine programs.
“The contract enables the key shipbuilding tenants of workforce stability, long-range planning of our resources and effective utilization of our shipyard capacity.”
One of my questions from the call was whether suppliers would be able to keep up with the demand for two carriers at once. Would pushing this much work into the system overwhelm it? Boykin was adamant that the industrial base could not only absorb the work but that the stability created by this contract announcement is a big deal for her suppliers.
The Quote: “The suppliers have been very vocal and very clear that they are looking for this stability as much as we are. You can imagine how much easier it is for a large corporation to absorb that down time when you have to find something else for your workforce to do in the nine-to-12 months between carriers, but when you are a company in the Midwest, you’ve got 189 employees and you are the largest manufacturer in that community, that is not an easy thing to do.
“They’ve also been very vocal with the prime but also with the Navy about their willingness to invest in their workforce but also in their facilities, and the challenges of doing that when they don’t have a forecast of work that’s long enough to make that make business sense for them. The suppliers are capable, this makes it easier for them.”
Boykin went on to say that suppliers would have plenty of time and room to flex as needed because the carriers are being built one at a time, not simultaneously.
The Quote: “Remember, we’re not saying ‘Double what you need to give us over a two-year period.’ We’re placing orders for two ships, but their manufacturing cycle would align with ours because we don’t need everything in a warehouse for two ships today. We just need to purchase so that they can do their advanced planning and that material will come over the period of a two-year build. The stability for my workforce and the industrial base workforce is through 2032, it’s very impactful.”
Boykin, in response to a question from another reporter, also gave an update on the USS Gerald R. Ford’s progress through it’s post-shakedown availability, scheduled to wrap up in July.
One of the main sticking points has been the advanced weapons elevators. The first one was delivered in January, but there are eight more to go.
The Quote: “The weapons elevators are one of the most advanced technologies being incorporated into this ship, and we are working with … the Navy technical community through the remaining challenges to test, certify and turn over the elevators to the Navy safely. One is turned over to the crew, the second will be turned over in the next couple of weeks. It is going through its final certification.
“Right now, the four upper stage elevators we expect to be turned over to the Navy. There are five lower-stage elevators, and of those there are four-to-five where some part of the certification that will extend beyond the scheduled PSA. But, all the shipboard installation, the testing activities, will all be complete before she sails away from here. There will likely be some certification activities on four-to-five of the lower-stage elevators.”