Biggest US Navy Shipbuilding Projects Are Delayed by Years

  • The US Navy’s largest shipbuilding projects are being delayed by several years, according to a new report.
  • The review was commissioned last January, amid concerns the programs were falling behind schedule.
  • Shipbuilding problems are pushing Navy leaders to maintain their edge over great-power rivals.

The US Navy’s biggest shipbuilding projects, from new submarines to the first-in-class guided-missile frigate, are being delayed by one to three years, according to a new Navy report. report.

The delays do not help to allay the concerns of Navy leaders worried it’s about keeping pace with rival great powers, like China, which is building new ships at an astonishing rate.

According to the 45-day review, details of which were shared with Business Insider, several high-profile programs were delayed. At a glance, lead times vary from at least one year to three years after the original contractual delivery dates.

These worrying delays have also resulted in a “proportionate increase in Navy project costs due to these delays and continued high inflation,” said Hon. Nick Guertin, the Navy’s chief acquisition officer, told reporters during a roundtable Tuesday evening, a transcript of which was provided to BI.

The longest delays are for the upcoming Block IV Virginia-class submarines and the Constellation-class guided-missile frigate, which based on current performance will not be delivered for at least 36 months.

Chart from the Secretary of the Navy's 45-day shipbuilding review.

A chart from the Secretary of the Navy’s 45-day shipbuilding review.

US Navy Public Affairs

Other regarding delays include the Navy’s first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, a top priority for the Department of Defense, expected to be delivered 12 to 16 months after its original October 2027 delivery date.

This is a serious problem because the Navy is required to have 10 ballistic missile submarines ready to deploy at any time, and the retirement of the older ships has created a dire situation where, if the lead submarine Columbia is not delivered in 2027 and ready to patrol in 2031, the force will not meet this requirement.

There is also a significant delay for the Navy’s next Ford-class aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. Third carrier in its class, the Enterprise is not expected to be delivered before 18 to 26 months after its initial date. The Ford class experienced a number of delays during its development.

Guertin attributed many of the delays to “routine issues related to the ongoing impacts of COVID on the domestic workforce and supply chain landscape, with industry reluctant to invest.”

He added that risk reduction measures during the pandemic helped keep the impact “as minimal as possible”.

Newport News shipbuilding workers and Navy sailors walk past the USS George Washington as it rests dockside, Oct. 11, 2019.

Newport News shipbuilding workers and Navy sailors walk past the USS George Washington as it rests dockside, Oct. 11, 2019.

Jonathon Gruenke/The Virginian-Pilot/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The 45-day review was ordered by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro in January. At the time, Navy leaders were concerned that delays in building the Virginia-class submarines could impact the development schedule for the new Columbia-class submarines, ultimately leading to major problems. to keep the Navy’s submarine force ready.

Del Toro called for an “assessment of the national and local causes of shipbuilding challenges, as well as recommended actions to achieve a healthier U.S. shipbuilding industrial base, providing the warfighting capabilities our warfighters need , according to a relevant timetable.

This growing concern comes as Chinese shipbuilding not only produces more warships, but also increasingly capable ships.

Last January, a report submitted to Congress on China’s naval capabilities indicated that its modernization efforts had been underway since the early to mid-1990s, transforming its navy into a formidable military force.

The Defense Ministry said China’s navy “is the largest navy in the world, with a combat force of more than 370 platforms, including major surface combatants, submarines, amphibious ships ocean vessels, mine warships, aircraft carriers and fleet auxiliaries. Its overall combat strength is expected to reach 395 troops by 2025 and 435 troops by 2030.

Soldiers line up on the bridge in Zhoushan, east China's Zhejiang Province.

“You don’t have to be a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician to realize that the number of Chinese ships is going to continue to exceed ours,” said retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis.

Fang Sihang/Xinhua via Getty Images

This seriously dwarfs the Navy’s current and expected numbers. Currently, the Navy has a fleet of nearly 300 ships. Plans call for adding between 282 and 340 by 2052, which, when considering warship retirements, would bring the size of the fleet to between 316 and 367, according to the plan. The Navy has considered using unmanned systems to augment the force, but there are questions about whether or not that would be enough in a fight in the Pacific.

While U.S. and Navy officials have expressed concern about the pace of Chinese shipbuilding, some have argued that there is a quality versus quantity difference between the two powers, and there is evidence to support this assessment. However, China’s growth naval capability has pushed the DoD to prioritize increased development and faster delivery of its next ships.

However, there are blockages. The Navy’s review, Guertin said, “identified major initiatives to drive improvements that we plan to continue.” This includes resolving issues related to labor, materials, supply chains and contracts. Guertin also said the next step would be to evaluate the Navy’s budget for shipbuilding and the costs of delays.

“Our Navy ships exist to strengthen American dominance and provide warfighting capability by providing the tools our warfighters need to operate the world’s most powerful Navy. In order to deliver these key warfighting tools, the challenges of shipbuilding needs to be addressed,” he said.


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