NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Virginia-class submarine program manager said this week the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2020 request for a third vessel is meant to give contractors time to prepare to change their cadence and show a commitment to the program.
The Navy is generally buying two attack submarines per year, but the FY ’20 budget was a change form the previous budget plans. The third submarine, which will not include the new Virginia Payload Module (VPM), will be built as if it was planned for FY ’23.
On Tuesday, the program manager for the Virginia-class submarine, Capt. Christopher Hanson, said here at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space Expo that the service normally does two years of advance procurement funds plus economic order quantity funds for components for the boats.
However, the third FY ’20 boat will not benefit from advance procurement funds, because it was already ordered under a 10- submarine block buy.
Given that existing advanced procurement funding, Hanson said “one of our big concerns is the vendor base.” Since this award will start operating in FY ’23, it is meant to “send a very clear signal of what’s coming.”
He explained some vendors get an increased risk when anything changes in an order, so the Navy wants to get orders out to the vendor base early, with time for them to ramp up production. Given their current model of two submarines per year, this early warning is better than suddenly hitting them with an order for a 50 percent increase in parts for only a year or two.
“If they get a clear signal, they will invest,” Hanson said. “That clear signal is hard to measure, but you definitely see the results in the vendor base,” he added.
Hanson said rather than considering this as three submarines instead of two, he said you can think of it as delivering 11 submarines in the time they normally deliver 10. That way, suppliers used to moving on to the next vessel every six months can start tightening that schedule.
Then, by FY ’23, when the third FY ’20 submarine hits, the vendors will be ready and be closer to a four- to five-month cadence.
The Navy is also still trying to get the Virginia-class submarines produced on a 60-month timeline, but it has been mired in a 66- to 68-month timeline in the current Block IV order.
Hanson said his goal is to get the submarines produced on a 62-month timeline for the first three boats, then down to 60 by the end of the block order.
He acknowledged it was not easy to achieve. That goal is “aggressive but achievable.” He expects them to get close to 60 months by the end of the block, even if they do not actually achieve it.
“Would I bet my life on 60 months? Probably not,” Hanson said.