Navy leaders this week admitted they hope to ultimately expand Constellation-class frigate production to four ships per year with a second shipyard.
Responding to questioning by Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) during a hearing on Tuesday, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said the Navy expects the technical data package (TDP) will be completed by the end of the year.
“We’re actually waiting for the completion of the technical design package, which is expected by the end of this year. Once that technical design package is fully mature and submitted for review, we will review it and at that point we’ll make a decision on whether we have the ability to actually take that technical data package and make sure that it’s mature enough to actually perhaps compete with another shipyard so that we could have two shipyards building Constellation-class.”
Typically, a TDP includes all the technical and manufacturing information needed to build and support a program throughout its lifecycle, allowing the government to assign production of a system to another contractor.
However, Del Toro said no decision on definitively adding a second shipyard has been made yet.
For now the president’s fiscal year 2024 budget request and the 30-year shipbuilding plan recommend continuing the 2-1-2-1 “sawtooth” procurement pattern before building up to two frigates per year.
When pressed by Wicker, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said it is very useful to add a second shipyard and ultimately procure four frigates per year.
“I think it’s very important…if we could get a second shipyard and two [frigates] a year from each shipyard [and] 2-3 destroyers a year, we’d be in a much better place.”
Fincantieri Marinette Marine started construction on the first new frigate, the future USS Constellation (FFG-62), last August, with the ship expected to be delivered in 2026 (Defense Daily, Aug. 31, 2022).
Last year, Constellation-class Frigate Program Manager Capt. Kevin Smith said he expects the Navy to decide to use its TDP option at some point before the end of the initial 10-ship contract with Fincantieri (Defense Daily, April 7, 2022).
At the time he said the requirement for a second shipyard was not in the acquisition program so far, with the Navy focusing on Fincantieri being able to meet the demand of the first 10-ship order, but he sees the service very interested in the ship class.
“I’ll tell you that we have the Technical Data Package in the contract for a reason and then our thought would be a lead yard-follow yard.”
Gilday said the Navy is catching up on ship production as it only has seven commercial shipyards versus 30 shipyard options several decades ago “and you can’t buy back time.”
While the CNO confirmed the Navy cannot likely procure four frigates annually with only Fincantieri producing them, he underscored the importance of waiting until the TDP is ready before moving forward with a second shipyard.
“I also agree with the Secretary’s comments. I think two shipyards is in the plan. We want to make sure that we’re measuring twice and cutting once before that decision is made.”
The service’s 30-year long-term shipbuilding plan, released Monday, said the Navy will examine other industrial base options, like a second frigate builder.
“The Navy is mindful that as fleet composition evolves to meet warfighting requirements, alternative opportunities for the industrial base must be examined. These opportunities include…a potential FFG 62 second source for construction once the design and technical data package is mature and risks have been reduced and validated. These opportunities allow the industrial base to adapt while maintaining the capacity to deliver the capability the nation needs.”
The document also said the FY 2024 budget request continues the sawtooth procurement profile through 2028 due to both affordability and requiring the demonstration of Fincantieri’s production capacity.
“These changes in small surface combatant procurement manage execution risk in the FFG program for the FY2024 FYDP as the shipyard ramps up efforts on the lead ship, started in FY2022, while also completing existing orders for other ship classes.”
Three months ago, Kari Wilkinson, executive vice president at HII [HII] and president of Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. told reporters the shipyard has significant opportunity at its East Bank space for something like the frigate as it wraps up production on the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters in 2025 to 2026 (Defense Daily, Jan. 13, 2023).
“Frigate second build yard is of great interest to us, obviously, if the Navy chooses to pursue that route. And we’re at the ready to support it. And we’re very interested in that program. So we’re always looking further afield and making sure we’re having all the right conversations,” Wilkinson said.