In competition with public shipyards for repair work, Electric Boat wins $126M Navy maintenance contract
By STEPHEN SINGER | The Hartford Courant | Published: August 24, 2020
HARTFORD, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Navy has announced a nearly $126 million submarine maintenance contract at General Dynamics Electric Boat, a win for the Groton shipyard that’s competing with Navy yards for repair work.
The contract for planning and maintenance will support work through February 2022, including for the USS Hartford, an aging vessel that’s had its share of scrapes and bumps.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., whose district includes the EB shipyard, said federal law has a “presumption in favor” of work at Navy yards that also benefit from the mistaken belief they are less expensive for maintenance and repair than private shipyards such as the EB site.
“There’s persistent pushback from the Navy that private yards cost too much,” he said.
An April 2019 report by the Congressional Budget Office came to a different conclusion. From 1993 to 2017, work at private shipyards cost 31% less on average, though the gap has narrowed recently, the CBO said. Maintenance at Navy yards go through long delays, “sometimes as much as several years,” it said.
“As a result, some submarines have missed deployments or had shortened deployments. The Navy has sent several submarines to private shipyards for overhauls in recent years but could send more,” the report said.
Multibillion-dollar submarine construction projects get much of the attention. But smaller maintenance and repair contracts ensure steady employment at the shipyard, help keep workers up to date on changing technology and support the argument of private shipyards’ allies who say repair and maintenance work is less costly than at Navy sites.
The average cost of overhauls at all shipyards rose to about $50 million in the mid-2010s from $30 million in the mid-2000s and $20 million in the mid-1990s, the report said. Rising costs are due partly to aging submarines and the Navy’s shift to more frequent maintenance, the CBO said.
Courtney and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said bottlenecks and outdated systems at public shipyards strengthen the argument of private shipyard backers who are seeking out more work. Maintaining and repairing submarines “is as important as building new ones,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“If you can repair or maintain a submarine quickly and effectively, you have another asset back in the water protecting the country at sea,” he said.
Kevin Graney, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat, said maintenance work “keeps vital muscle in good shape.”
“Work on nuclear systems that have been out in the fleet and turn them back to service is a skill set that if we’re just building new construction submarines would tend to atrophy,” he told reporters Friday at a briefing at Electric Boat. “Having the Hartford here in the shipyard gives us that opportunity to flex that muscle.”
Maintenance and repair contracts also ensure a steady workflow at the shipyard.
“It stabilizes our workforce,” Graney said. ”Where we are today, with the contract on the Hartford and some other things that have helped us along the way, we’re in a very stable environment for our workforce. And that is going to be critical to us as we ramp up and getting to two submarines, Virginia construction and Columbia.”
The Electric Boat shipyards in Groton and nearby Quonset Point, R.I., are preparing for an increase in construction of the Virginia-class submarine and next-generation Columbia class.
The USS Hartford was launched Dec. 4, 1993, at the EB shipyard. “This one is getting to the end of its shelf life,” Courtney said.
The Los Angeles-class attack submarine was damaged in March 2009 in a collision with another U.S. naval vessel in the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and the Arabian peninsula. The fuel tank on the other vessel, the USS New Orleans, ruptured and spilled 25,000 gallons.
In October 2003, the Hartford ran aground in Sardinia in the Mediterranean with enough force to damage its rudders, sonar and electronics.
It’s the second ship to be named after Connecticut’s capital city. The first was a sail- and steam-powered sloop commissioned in 1859 and served initially as the flagship of the Navy’s East India Squadron.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, the original Hartford became Adm. David Farragut’s flagship in the Western Gulf of Mexico Blockading Squadron. It took its place in history during the Civil War battle of Mobile Bay when Farragut issued the order, “Damn the torpedoes ... full speed ahead.”
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