By Geoff Fein

The Navy is beginning to examine how to lower the overall lifecycle cost of the Virginia-class submarine program, similar to the effort the service pursued to drop the cost per hull to $2 billion, according to a Navy official.

Under the Block III effort, the Navy focused only on ship acquisition costs while making sure that the Navy didn’t pass on the bill on operating and support costs, Capt. Michael Jabaley, program manager of the Virginia-class program, told Defense Daily in a recent interview.

“In Block IV, we are focusing almost on the entire spectrum of costs…total ownership costs [which] includes ship acquisition costs,” he said “But now it includes operating and support costs, too.”

The Virginia-class program is one of four pilot programs run by a joint forum composed of the Vice Chief of Naval Operations and Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Research, Development, Principal Deputy Vice Adm. David Architzel, Jabaley said.

“They have designated four pilot programs to figure out exactly how to reduce total ownership cost,” he said. “Our goal is to look at the whole spectrum. To do that, we are taking the same process we used in Block III to reduce ship acquisition cost and really expanding it.”

Jabaley said it’s going to be a challenge.

“If you look at what we did in Block III, there are really three key players–the program office and the technical codes within NAVSEA, and General Dynamics Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Newport News (Va.), from the standpoint of building the ship…those were the key players.”

Now the Navy is talking about looking at all the cost over the lifecycle of the ship and that means integrating many more stakeholders from the public shipyards who do the selective restrictive availabilities (SRA), the fleet itself for the operating the training commands…the SUBMEPP (Submarine Maintenance Engineering Planning and Procurement Activity) which designs the SRA work package…it’s more than 10-fold in scope, Jabaley added.

“We have five focus areas that we are going to be working on and it covers the whole scope from cradle to grave,” he said.

“It’s important when you look back at what we did in Block III we had a $600 million investment and with that $600 million we were able to do the engineering analysis and prove out the initiatives to validate pulling $400 million off of each of eight ships,” Jabaley said.

With a $600 million investment, the Navy achieved a $3.2 billion return, he noted.

Such an example illustrates that when a platform is already designed it takes money to save money, Jabaley said.

“So we are working with Navy budgeting to try to get the same level of investment, so that we can succeed in total ownership cost. That will be our focus for the next three to four years as we move into the Block IV contract.”

Earlier this month, the Virginia-class program reached an important milestone when the Navy’s Commander Operational Test and Evaluation Force (COMOPTEVFOR) formally declared Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL) complete on Virginia.

COMOPTEVFOR is expected to deliver its final report by the beginning of the summer, Jabaley said.

The Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) will release their beyond Low-Rate Initial Production report later this summer, leading up to a Milestone III review.

The other big milestone this year–the USS Virginia (SSN-774)–is no longer officially a test article. The boat will be turned over to the fleet, Jabaley added. “So the fleet is now able to work her up for her first full length six-month deployment.”

“The other big one is the transfer of our first submarine to the Pacific Fleet,” he said.

The USS Hawaii (SSN-776) will be changing homeports, relocating to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, soon to be followed by the USS Texas (SSN- 775), Jabaley said.

“So, we will get Hawaii out there this summer and Texas out there later this year. We’ll put our first Virginia-class submarines into Submarine Squadron One, put in Pearl Harbor,” Jabaley added.