By Michael Melia
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – The first in a series of Navy attack submarines with a newly redesigned bow is nearing completion at Groton’s Electric Boat, which says it is on track to beat production deadlines with the boat that will become the USS North Dakota.
The military contractor, which got a boost when Congress agreed to not delay the purchase of a Virginia-class sub, is hoping that its record of delivering submarines under budget and ahead of
schedule will help protect it from cuts in Washington.
“There’s no question we’re in a very constrained fiscal environment,” said Robert Hamilton, a company spokesman. “Any program that is over-running on costs and schedule is going to get a second look.”
The last major piece of the new submarine, the 113-foot-long bow section, arrived at the Groton shipyard from the company’s partner contractor in the Virginia-class submarine project,
Newport News Shipbuilding. The Navy contract calls for the completed sub to be delivered in August 2014.
The new design introduces larger, more versatile weapons tubes in the bow. Despite the changes, the submarine is expected to be ready for delivery ahead of schedule, partly because the design reduced the number of parts in the bow and made construction more manageable, said Chris Cameron, a construction program manager at Electric Boat.
The U.S. is building two Virginia-class submarines a year, at a cost of about $2.6 billion each. The costsavings for the Navy that come with the redesign of the bow will add up to about $800 million over 20 submarines, Hamilton said.
A budget proposal from President Barack Obama had called for the Navy to purchase only one submarine in 2014, but the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agreed to include money for a second sub that year in the National Defense Authorization Act.
Bob Ross, the director of the state’s Office of Military Affairs, noted the Virginia-class program has been praised for efficiency by the defense secretary.
“It’s really great from our position to be able to articulate that this is the premier, major acquisition program in the country right now,” Ross said. “It puts us on very solid ground when we argue don’t disrupt that production schedule.’”
Like other defense contractors around the state and the nation, Electric Boat is still keeping a wary eye on developments in Washington, where talks are under way to reach a deal that would avoid the double hit of tax hikes and automatic spending reductions dubbed the “fiscal cliff.”
Even if those automatic cuts do not take effect, Ross said Connecticut is expected to see a 10 percent reduction in its defense spending over the next six years. He said the automatic cuts could raise that figure as high as 18 percent, but officials have no way to know which programs would be hit.