GENERAL DYNAMICS’ ELECTRIC BOAT ILLUSTRATIONS
As planning begins for Block IV of the Virginia submarine class, program officials are looking at expanding the capabilities
of the two large-diameter payload tubes of Block III subs as potential launchers for unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned
underwater vehicles and special forces payloads, among other things.
that will reduce the submarines’ construction and life-cycle costs,” he said.
Plante said Electric Boat is considering modifying the
submarine’s sail and adding more sensor capability to it.
Some improvements being considered by Electric
Boat include using less-expensive composite materials
where allowed by the design, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for expensive, exotic materials; developing special tooling and [production] process technology;
and minimizing obsolescence of electronics on the submarine with new ideas in installation and testing.
“We continue to develop electric ship technology,”
Plante said. “We believe there is a strong business case
for replacing hydraulics with electric actuation. It’s not
just ‘go change drawings;’ you have to develop the
actual technology and make sure that you prove it out
and demonstrate it.”
Although the concept of external payloads, such as
weapons, is being explored by the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency, Hesch said that, specifically
with regard to Block IV, “we’re not necessarily seeing anything that we can count on in the external payload area.”
“It is premature to discuss opportunities for new technologies and modifications for Block V Virginias without
knowing what the Navy will be able to incorporate into
the Block IV ships,” the NAVSEA spokesman said.
Electric Boat expects the future blocks to benefit
from the economic advances in the Block III program.
The multiyear aspect of the Block III contract, when
combined with economic order quantity, “allows us to
procure the material much more efficiently than what
we’ve been able to do in the past,” Holmander said. “It’s
really becoming the key ingredient to helping us reach
the goal. The multiyear buy has allowed us to work with
the vendors and get the material here in time to support
the other initiatives we have, like schedule reduction.”
The certainty of multiyear procurement allows vendors to “reduce the cost of risks and lower their price
of material,” he said.
The schedule reduction mentioned by Holmander is
the effort to trim the construction time for a Virginia SSN
to 60-63 months, down from 103 months. Electric Boat
and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding have achieved significant progress toward that goal. New Hampshire, one of
six Block II boats, was completed in 71 months and delivered in August, eight months ahead of contract schedule.
“By the time we finish off Block II we expect to
achieve a 63-month goal,” Holmander said. “We have
plans to achieve a 60-month ship by the time we go
into a two-per-year production rate.”
The increase to two Virginia SSNs per year will
require increased work-force levels and bring more stability to the final assembly work force. For example,
Holmander expects Electric Boat’s 2,100-strong work
force at its Quonset Point, R.I., manufacturing and
modular construction facility to increase by several
hundred workers by 2011.
The company’s final assembly and test facility in
Groton, Conn., currently experiences “peaks and valleys,” he said, because Electric Boat alternates with
Northrop Grumman, with each company delivering
one submarine every other year.
“Going to two per year will allow us to stabilize [our
work force] and then further increase our efficiencies
once we are in a steady state here,” he said.
The Groton facility plans to hire approximately 650
additional personnel to support the program.
Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding is ramping up its
work force at its Newport, News, Va., shipyard by 700 to
1,000 workers by 2015, for a total of 2,500 to 3,000 in the
Virginia program, according to Becky Stewart, the company’s vice president for submarines and fleet support. ■