Electric Boat Poised To Invest $1.5 Billion To Meet Demand For More Subs
By Julia Bergman
New London Day
January 9, 2017
GROTON – On the heels of the Navy's call for 18 more attack submarines, Electric Boat President Jeffrey Geiger said Monday the submarine builder is poised to meet the Navy's demand provided it has the time to build up its workforce, supplier base and facilities.
In a mid-December report, the Navy outlined its need to boost its number of ships to 355 compared to the 272 it has now, including an increase in attack submarines from 48 to 66.
"That sends a signal about the kind of utility of the submarines, what the Navy needs in terms of the missions it's trying to execute, and overall forecasts a pretty positive future for submarines," Geiger said Monday morning in delivering his annual update to the usual crowded room of local government and business officials at the Mystic Marriott.
In recent weeks, the Navy has talked to EB about its capacity to simultaneously build two or even three Virginia-class attack submarines and a Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.
To get to 66 attack submarines, there would need to be a dramatic uptick in construction, Geiger said.
EB is already preparing to spend $1.5 billion to expand its facilities in Groton and Quonset Point, R.I. In Groton, EB envisions expanding its already large, green building on the Groton waterfront where assembly and delivery of the Virginia submarines occurs. Geiger also pointed to the possibility of in-water development such as piers, and building a floating dry dock on the south end of its Groton campus to be able to deliver the Columbia-class submarines.
Current plans call for building one Virginia-class submarine each year that a Columbia-class submarine is built, which could happen as early as the fall of 2020, Geiger said. Meanwhile, federal lawmakers have asked the Navy to report on the possibility of adding an additional Virginia submarine during that time.
The Navy buys submarines in blocks, and the additional Virginia-class submarine would be added to the Block V contract that is expected to be awarded in late 2018.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who's known as a frequent visitor to EB and who has advocated for the additional submarine, said he was "very confident" it would happen. Adding another Virginia submarine would help to mitigate the anticipated drop in attack submarines in the future, Courtney said.
The Navy currently has 52 attack submarines, which is slightly above the requirement set in 2004 of 48. Under current plans, the number of attack submarines will drop to a low of 41 in the late 2020s.
If the current two-a-year production rate of Virginia-class attack submarines continued, the Navy would reach the 66 boat requirement in the 2040s, according to Geiger. If the Virginia submarines were built at a faster rate of three per year, the Navy would reach 66 boats in the 2030s, he said.
"Based on the needs of the country, there's a much stronger probability of an opportunity for increased construction rates of submarines in the future than a decrease," Geiger said.
EB will continue its hiring spree in 2017, when 2,000 new hires are planned. That will take the company from about 14,500 employees to well over 15,000. Seventy-five percent, or 11,000, of the 14,500 employees work in Connecticut.
In the long run, the company is looking to grow to 18,000 employees by 2030. To do that, it will need to hire 14,000 people from now until then. Those people will fill a combination of new jobs and those being vacated by retirees or those leaving for other reasons, EB officials have said.
The workforce development programs, set up locally to develop skilled labor for EB, will need to churn out a much higher number of graduates to meet the company's needs. Last year, EB hired 82 graduates of those programs, but "we need it to be five or ten times that," Geiger said.
Courtney and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., emphasized that any investment in defense programs needed to be matched in labor programs to train the employees needed to do these jobs. In addressing the state lawmakers in the room, the men acknowledged the challenge they face in addressing the $1.5 billion deficit in Connecticut's budget, but encouraged them to continue to prioritize funding for these types of training programs.
EB is also looking to expand its supplier base, which is at about 3,000 in 47 states including 454 suppliers in Connecticut.