Virginia’s congressional delegation wrote the Navy’s top acquisition official last week pushing the service to accelerate work on the LHA-9 amphibious assault ship and other measures to help shipyards during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To ensure a sustained industrial base, development of the LHA-9 acquisition effort and use of the FY19 LHA-9 Advanced Procurement monies to accelerate construction of an additional large deck amphibious ship,” the delegation requested as one of five points to Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts on April 17.
The letter covers the full Virginia delegation, meaning both Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) as well as all 11 House members representing Virginia.
Last year, lawmakers pressed the Navy to start building the America-class amphibious assault vessel LHA-9 faster, inquiring if incremental funding in FY 2020 was better than deferring procurement (Defense Daily, March 29, 2019).
During a Senate Armed Services Seapower subcommittee hearing at the time, Geurts said LHA-9 was previously delayed to 2024 due to affordability but they would look at buying it earlier because he was concerned with the seven-year break in building LHAs under that schedule.
The FY 2020 defense appropriations bill then added $650 million to incrementally fund LHA-9. However, in February, a Defense Department reprogramming request to shift funds to the Trump administration’s border wall project would shift the same $650 million away from the ship (Defense Daily, Feb. 13).
The delegation’s letter also asked Geurts to ensure shipyard workforce safety be the “bedrock of any future discussion” on contractual adjustments to alleviate COVID-19 hazards, expeditions contractual adjustments between the Navy and industry to help alleviate the virus’ negative impacts to shipyards and their workers, support expediting access to loan and loan guarantees provided that could be used to assist the shipbuilding and ship maintenance industrial base, and an assurance that previously programmed continuous maintenance availability will continue “to ensure continued small business participation in ship repair.”
Geurts told reporters last week the Navy is already accelerating contracts about 32 percent faster than last year to help the industrial base deal with the pandemic. He also noted the service accelerated payments, made adjustments and reevaluations on withheld payments and outstanding funds, all to free up cash owed to give a quick buffer to companies (Defense Daily, April 16).
The big deck America-class LHAs are built by Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] at its Ingalls Shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Miss., while the company also builds other ship classes at its Newport News Shipbuilding facility in Virginia.