GROTON, Conn. – Submarine builder Electric Boat would be able to meet the expectations of an ambitious U.S. Navy shipbuilding plan, given the time and resources, company president Jeffrey Geiger said Monday.
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The Navy released a 355-ship proposal last month that calls for adding 47 ships, including 18 attack submarines. That's five more ships than Republican President-elect Donald Trump proposed while on the campaign trail.
It would be the biggest shipbuilding boom since the end of the Cold War.
Geiger spoke to government and business leaders Monday for the company's annual update and said the Navy has been asking him for several weeks whether Electric Boat could still build two attack submarines a year, or even three, when a new class of ballistic-missile submarines is under construction.
He told an Associated Press reporter afterward that the company would be able to meet the Navy's expectations but would have to expand its workforce, supplier base and facilities.
"I'm excited about the potential opportunity, and very pleased that the Virginia-class submarine is as vital to the Navy mission as it is, that it could represent that kind of an increase in the fleet," Geiger said.
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The General Dynamics Corp. subsidiary builds two Virginia-class attack submarines with Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia annually.
Electric Boat also is designing the ballistic-missile submarines. Construction on those ships isn't expected to begin any sooner than the fall of 2020. Once construction begins, the production of attack submarines will typically be one a year.
Geiger said that if Congress supports the Navy's proposal, it would take a significant expansion in the number of companies that supply submarine parts and continued investment in workforce training programs.
About 3,000 submarine suppliers operate in 47 states. A new program at the Community College of Rhode Island began Monday with its first class of Electric Boat trainees.
The Navy currently has 274 deployable battle force ships, far short of its old goal of 308 ships.
Boosting shipbuilding to meet the Navy's proposed goal could require an additional $5 billion to $5.5 billion in annual spending in the Navy's 30-year projection, according to an estimate by the Congressional Research Service.
Rep. Joe Courtney said the Navy needs the additional ships, but it will be challenging to pay for such a "big jump" and ships would have to be procured and built more efficiently. The Democratic congressman's district includes Electric Boat.
"I think it's going to go up, I really do," he said. "Whether you can get that high, it's a very daunting task."
Fifteen attack submarines are currently under contract, including 11 under construction.
Electric Boat employs about 14,500 people, mainly in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Employment is currently projected to grow to 18,000 by 2030, with 2,000 new hires this year to increase the headcount and account for attrition.
The company had more than $5 billion in sales in 2016.