USN Signs Major Virginia Sub Contract

Jan 5, 2009
By Bettina H. Chavanne

A major new U.S. Navy production contract for eight more Virginia-class submarines marks the most successful year yet for the high-profile submarine, as well as the importance of its Washington and New England advocate communities.

The U.S. Navy has signed a five-year, $14 billion contract with Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics Electric Boat for eight Virginia-class submarines (Aerospace DAILY, Dec. 23). In official statements late Dec. 22 and a teleconference call with reporters early Dec. 23, executives and lawmakers were ebullient with the milestone.

General Dynamics Electric Boat’s press conference on the announcement drew congressional heavyweights. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) were joined by Reps. James Langevin (D-R.I.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.).

Dodd said the Navy’s contract announcement is the “culmination of decades of work. This didn’t happen miraculously.”

The contract immediately provides for $2.4 billion to fund construction of SSN-784, to be the USS North Dakota, as well as advanced procurement for SSN-785 and funding to purchase materials and parts for multiple boats at one time.

The Navy said that to reach its cost-cutting goal, the program followed a three-prong strategy. The first element, which accounts for half of the supposed savings, involved increasing production to two ships annually in a multiyear procurement (MYP) contract to spread the shipyards’ overhead costs over more ships. Industry has long argued that they could achieve more savings per sub if the Navy and Congress ordered more subs sooner.

Meanwhile, the rest of the savings stem from a $600 million investment to redesign portions of the ship for more efficient production and to improve construction processes, thereby reducing the construction span from 84 to 60 months, the Navy said.

Along those lines, the most extensive cost-reduction modification involves the replacement of the traditional sonar sphere with a Large Aperture Bow (LAB) Array and the 12 vertical launch tubes with two large Virginia Payload Tubes (VPT). The LAB and VPT, along with more than two dozen associated modifications, save $40 million per submarine, beginning with the FY ’12 ships, according to the Navy.

In a Dec. 18 announcement, Rear Adm. William Hilarides, the Navy’s program executive officer for submarine, said all Virginia subs now under construction are on track to be delivered between eight and 12 months early compared with their the contract delivery dates.

Photo: USN

Aerospace Daily and Defense Report

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