With Ohio Replacement Coming, Time To Ramp Up Supplier Base
August 22, 2014
GROTON, Conn. – While the Navy is seven years away from the planned timeframe to begin construction on the first of a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, efforts are already under way to prepare the supplier base for the surge in production that will be needed to build the ships.
The level of the Navy’s submarine production dropped in the 1990s following the end of the Cold War, resulting in a shrunken supplier base, simply because there was not enough work to go around for all the companies involved. At one time there were 12,000 companies who supplied parts for sub production, but that number has fallen to about 2,000 suppliers who contribute to the Navy’s new Virginia-class (SSN-774) attack submarines.
The Navy is currently building the attack subs at a rate of two per year, a number that will continue into the early 2020s, just as the service moves into production for the replacement of the Ohio-class ballistic subs. The ballistic subs are much larger than their attack counterparts and will require many more parts, such as valves, heat exchangers, manifolds, missile tubes and other components.
General Dynamics Electric Boat is currently the prime contractor for the early design and development of the Ohio-class replacement program, also referred to as the ORP.
The Navy has yet to determine its acquisition model for the construction program, whether Groton, Conn.-based Electric Boat will be the full prime contractor or whether some kind of teaming arrangement will be set up similar to the Virginia program, where Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. split the hull construction work.
Nevertheless, officials at Electric Boat have already begun engaging the supplier base to ensure they will be ready to support the additional production that will come with simultaneously building the Virginia-class and the Ohio replacements. The ORP ships will be more than double the size of the Virginias.
“That will be tough on the supplier base,” Brian Wilson, the program director for the ORP at Electric Boat, said in an interview. “It means there is a lot more stuff.”
The Navy decided several years ago to push back construction on the first ORP ship from 2019 to 2021 to account for shrinking budgets and to allow more time to work through the design. According to the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan released earlier this year, there will be one Virginia-class boat being built alongside the first ORP vessel in 2021, but that number will fluctuate up throughout the decade and into the 2030s.
While the shipbuilding plan is modified annually, as of now the second Ohio replacement is slated for fiscal 2024, along with two Virginias, with the same situation arising again in 2026, as the third ORP ships goes into construction. Throughout the decade, new construction on the attack subs is slated for two every even numbered year and one in the odd years.
“If there’s one Virginia there and a big Ohio replacement, they (the suppliers) are going to have a steady diet that we will need to maintain and manage,” Wilson said.
“There is some investment going on to compete to get new vendors engaged in different parts so we can balance off the needs of Virginia and Ohio replacement,” he added.
The supplier base will need to start increasing its capacity to produce more to ensure production remains streamlined, and Electric Boat has been working with the Submarine Industrial Base Council, an organization that represents sub builders and suppliers, to keep companies abreast of the latest developments so they can plan.
“Keep them educated,” Wilson said. In those discussions, Wilson said, the supplying companies emphasize the importance of consistency in planning, an important message as the program goes forward for the Navy, and Congress, which controls the budget.
“Give us something that we can predict and actually support and then we will all be there to make it happen,” Wilson said, conveying the sentiment expressed by the suppliers.