The U.S. Navy’s new plan to expand its fleet by dozens of ships will require addressing several industrial-base and organizational issues, service officials said Jan. 12.

Rear Adm. William Galinis, who, as the program executive officer (PEO) for ships, oversees the design and construction of destroyers and amphibious ships, among other vessels, said his programs will have to pay extra attention to small suppliers to ensure that that fragile sector can deliver. For example, the Navy may need to “re-sequence” funding for companies that provide such items as power electronics and hydraulics.

The Surface Navy Association held a symposium in January 2017 in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Marc Selinger/Defense Daily)
The Surface Navy Association held a symposium in January 2017 in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Marc Selinger/Defense Daily)

“The piece parts that flow into these shipyards to build these ships — that’s where I think we may have some of our challenges,” Galinis said during a panel discussion at a Surface Navy Association conference in Arlington, Va. “My sense is the industrial base will size to the demand signal. We just need to be mindful of how we transition to that increase in demand signal.”

Galinis said the Navy also needs to ease the burden on its own contracting team, which is “stressed” and has difficulty hiring new employees. “That’s an area we’ll need to work through, but I don’t see anything that’s insurmountable,” he said.

Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, PEO for submarines, sounded more cautious, saying that the industrial base has the “potential” to produce more attack submarines but will need to stand up more facilities and hire more people. Shipbuilders are already expanding to prepare to build the future Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, he noted.

The Navy, which now wants 66 attack submarines, up from its previous goal of 48, has to “figure out how to get the Navy to 66 attack submarines in the right amount of time without breaking the submarine construction enterprise,” Jabaley said. “We’re doing that hard work right now to figure out what the recommended posture is to get us to 66.”

Rear Adm. Douglas Small, PEO for integrated warfare systems, said that a few of his key vendors will need to do facilities work, but he does not see it as an impediment to a larger fleet.

Later at the conference, Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley told reporters that he is “very confident” the ship industrial base can handle more work because most ship types have “hot production lines” and because shipbuilders tend to have excess capacity. He said shipyards will need to buy special tooling to handle higher production rates, “but I would say that’s easily done. We understand that.”

Stackley added that preserving a skilled workforce will be crucial to building more ships and will require careful management. “In certain cases, what this means is not laying off the skilled workforce that we have that we want to retain,” he said.

The Navy announced last month that it wants a fleet of 355 ships, up from its previous goal of 308. The 47-ship increase includes one more aircraft carrier, 18 more attack submarines, 16 more large surface combatants and four more amphibious warfare ships.