‘More Brains’ Benefit Virginia-Class
Submarine-Building Team Arrangement
The Virginia is the Navy’s first post-Cold War class of nuclear-powered
attack submarine (SSN). Armed with
Mk48 torpedoes and Tomahawk
cruise missiles, the Virginia class provides the fleet with improved ability
to gain access and remain undetected, and better intelligence collection,
surveillance, reconnaissance and
The Virginia class is built under a
1997 teaming arrangement between
Electric Boat, Groton, Conn., and
Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding,
Newport News, Va. Construction
contracts are divided 50-50 between
the two shipbuilders. The Navy
plans to procure 30 boats with the
$92 billion program. Five SSNs
have been commissioned; 13 more
are under construction or contract.
Design began in the early 1990s,
with prototyping beginning in 1996.
Construction on the first four boats
(Block I) began in 1998. The lead
boat, Virginia, was launched in 2003
and commissioned in October 2004.
Construction of the six boats of
Block II began in January 2004. In
December 2008, the shipbuilders
were awarded a $14 billion contract
for construction of the eight boats of
Block III. Production will increase to
two boats per year in 2011.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Becky Stewart, Northrop Grumman
Shipbuilding’s vice president for
Submarines and Fleet Support, has
served for 27 years with increasing
responsibility throughout her career.
We — Northrop Grumman, Electric Boat and the Navy — have been
very successful in finding ways to cut costs out of the Virginia-class
program. With the proposal and negotiations for Block III, we were able to
meet the [chief of naval operation’s] goal of building two submarines per
year at a cost of $2 billion apiece in fiscal 2005 dollars. We are able to do
that because of investment in facilities; schedule acceleration; labor efficiencies through new or improved tools and equipment, and process
improvements; and producibility improvements.
For instance, we upgraded our modular outfitting facility with services
to be able to keep a ship in one of our delivery ways longer before it went
out of the building. That cut about 125,000 man hours out of the construction from one ship to the next.
Our goal is to get to a 60-month [production] schedule in 2012. That will
take a significant amount of cost out of the ships. Schedule acceleration is
one aspect that we have to keep our eye on. We’re doing that by accelerating each subsequent ship so that we don’t have to take a giant step to get to
the 60-month goal. We’re tracking to that very nicely right now. We have to
be ready to ramp up production to two per year seamlessly, and we’ve been
working for the last 18 months developing our plans to do just that.
The Electric Boat/Northrop Grumman team has good working relationships at every level. Part of the wisdom of this teaming agreement is that we
share profit. It incentivizes us both to do [our] best so we can improve our
profitability. We also generate cost reduction ideas that Electric Boat might
not have come up with and vice versa. The Navy is certainly getting
the benefit of a lot more brains than they could have otherwise.