Navy moves to alleviate shipbuilding delays through workforce development and industry collaboration

By Nick Wilson  / April 17, 2024

The Navy today unveiled a series of new initiatives to tackle shipbuilding delays by refining contracting strategies, improving collaboration with industry and strengthening the workforce involved in designing, contracting and building naval vessels.

Assistant Navy Secretary for Research, Development and Acquisition Nickolas Guertin told lawmakers he signed several memos earlier today directing these efforts to alleviate schedule challenges identified across key acquisition programs by a recent shipbuilding review.

Appearing before the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, Guertin said one of these “action memos” is intended to refine the Navy’s acquisition and contracting strategy to provide better incentives to shipbuilders and suppliers.

“Some of our contracts didn't provide the right balance of risk and reward to industry and balance that with the needs of the government,” he said. “So, I've asked my contracting officers to take a hard look at the mechanisms we're using for incentive clauses to better match what motivates their behavior, and what balances our risks between the two sides of that business agreement between industry and government.”

A separate memo looks to bolster the Navy’s design and engineering workforce, which has been allowed to atrophy in recent years, according to Guertin. The service also plans to increase its ranks of contracting officers, he added, saying the Navy has a shortage of experienced personnel in these positions.

“We need to get into a better place [so] we can understand how to interact fluidly, flexibly and efficiently with industry, so we do a better job of building these ships,” he said.

A third memo focuses on bolstering the pool of skilled shipyard labor including welders, pipe fitters and electricians.

“We need to stop thinking of them as fungible and think of them as strategic assets,” Guertin said. “We're going to be working with industry closely to develop the pipelines and think about how we do that work more artfully.”

Finally, the Navy will look for new ways to use industrial base investments to boost performance and reduce delays. While the service is looking for new ways to invest, it is seeing a positive return on funds that have already been appropriated and spent, he added.

Guertin’s comments provide the most detailed explanation to date on the Navy’s approach to tackling the shipbuilding delays identified in the report. Last week, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro indicated the service does have a plan but provided few specifics.

The Navy’s office of strategic assessment has been directed to “take a deep dive into the opportunities for improvement” identified in the review and to “develop innovative new approaches for how the Navy can better organize itself to procure ships more effectively,” Del Toro said at the time.

The 45-day shipbuilding review, directed in January to gauge the health of critical acquisition programs, found that the lead Columbia-class submarine (SSBN-826) is approximately 12-16 months behind schedule, block IV and V Virginia-class boats are 36 and 24 months late respectively, and the lead Constellation-class frigate (FFG-62) is delayed by as much as three years.