16:54 GMT23 June 2021
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    The US Navy is seeking more help from smaller defense contractors to maintain carriers and submarines in an effort to free up time for larger ship makers to build new vessels.

    The Navy's present process for handling service repairs, Vice Admiral Tom Moore told USNI News in late December, is "not a great way of doing it." Moore said he "hold[s] onto that work as long as I can" and he puts off hiring a contractor until "late in the game," once public shipyards max out their overtime hours or cannot finish the work on time.

    Moving forward, "I would really like to see us go the other way," Moore said. Specifically, the admiral envisions scheduling work for smaller service and maintenance companies in advance instead of waiting until the last minute.

    The change is spurred by public ship makers like General Dynamics Electric Boat, Huntington Ingalls Industries and Newport News Shipbuilding running low on capacity in their shipyards.

    By hiring small firms in advance, the Navy can boost overall capacity to build, fix, test and maintain ships. "If it turns out at the end of the year, ‘gee, I had more capacity than I needed at the naval shipyards,' then we'll address it. I haven't seen it happen in the last 10 or 15 years," Moore noted.

    Last June, US Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA) announced last year that a bipartisan group of lawmakers would welcome a new policy to expand the US Navy fleet up to 355 ships. The battle fleet currently has 277 vessels.

    "The Navy has set a clear requirement for 355 ships — an objective that is achievable in the coming years with prudent planning and sufficient resources," the lawmakers said at the time, noting that a 335-ship fleet would "allow us to deter our adversaries, support our allies and respond to threats and humanitarian challenges around the globe."

    On December 30, a bipartisan group of 130 US House of Representatives lawmakers signed a letter to US Secretary of Defense James Mattis expressing their interest in doubling the number of aircraft carriers procured in 2019.

    "Given the workload we have now, I don't see [having excess capacity] happening anytime in the near future," Moore said. Thus, the new strategy not only "helps the private yards" by providing a more credible expectation of what their workloads will be, the admiral said, "but it also provides us a level of stability in the public yards to let us focus on the core work that we need to get done to get the ships out on time."


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