The Navy’s top official said the service would welcome the chance to renew the it’s four public shipyards faster than planned under a current 20-year plan if given more funding.

“I believe that the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan (SIOP) – right now it’s a 20-year plan that’s upward of $20 billion – is something that we could look at accelerating if additional funds were available,” Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker said during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense subcommittee on April 29.

“I know there’s been talk by different folks on the Hill about putting that into the infrastructure bill. It’s something that we would appreciate the opportunity to accelerate that program because it is very critical to our success moving forward,” he continued.

Harker was referencing recent legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of legislators that would provide $25 billion to help fund public and private shipyard recapitalization efforts, including SIOP work. 

This bill, the Supplying Help to Infrastructure in Ports, Yards, and America’s Repair Docks (SHIPYARD) Act of 2021, would allow the Defense Department to use the Defense Production Act to fund the SIOP immediately, with funding lasting over the 20-year program timeline. This aims to allow the Navy to accelerate the plan faster than 20 years (Defense Daily, April 28).

The Navy first announced the SIOP effort to mitigate deficiencies and improve infrastructure at the four public shipyards in 2018. It covers work to improve dry docks, production pieces, capital equipment, and increase overall efficiencies like locations of buildings and work sites (Defense Daily, April 18, 2018).

The four public shipyards are the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va.; Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine; Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash.; and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Hawaii.

Also at the hearing, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said there are three strategic investments pressuring the service’s budget: the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine set to account for 25 to 33 percent of the shipbuilding budget, strategic sealift issues, and the four public shipyards requiring SIOP work.

On sealift, Gilday said Congress has been “gracious in allowing us to look, through some market analysis, at instead of buying new sealift ships for $300 to $500 million, to buy used ships that have 20 years of life left on them and buy them at one-tenth of the cost, say $20 to $25 million. And so we’re moving out purchasing vessels like that to close the capability gap, certainly widening with China and Russia.”

However, he underscored the importance of modernizing the shipyards, with their 21 dry docks, as new vessels come online.

“As the Secretary said, this is a once in a century opportunity to upgrade these facilities. And we have to. We’re putting new submarines in the water, Virginia-class Block IIIs and Block IVs. They’re larger submarines, we need to be able to get them at dry docks to work on them.”

Gilday reiterated the four public shipyards “do the lion’s share of work” on all nuclear-powered vessels, including aircraft carriers, ballistic missile submarines, guided-missile submarines, and the Virginia-class attack submarines. 

“So, our infrastructure on those four shipyards is over 60 yrs old. So, we’re recapitalizing the buildings as well as dry docks. Based on the support of Congress we have nine ongoing [military construction] projects across those four shipyards right now.”

Testifying before the House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness in March, Commander of Naval Sea Systems Command Vice Adm. William Galinis said he tasked his team with determining what it would take to do the SIOP recapitalization work in 10 to 15 years rather than 20 years (Defense Daily, March 25).

However, in 2019 a Government Accountability Office report said the Navy’s estimated costs for the SIOP could be off by billions of dollars  because it did not use best practices in developing the $21 billion estimate like documenting key assumptions, accounting for inflation, and addressing other risks that cumulatively could add billions to the total cost (Defense Daily, Nov. 25, 2019).