Newport News Shipbuilding, which in the past two years has added 3,000 employes and spent $100 million on renovation and modernization, last week was awarded a $1.2 billion contract from the Navy, and everyone is delighted -- except the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics in Groton, Conn.
The 475-acre Newport News shipyard stretching along two miles of the James River has not been awarded a submarine contract since September 1977, said yard spokesman James Griffith. The shipyard launched its first nuclear-powered submarine, the Robert E. Lee, in 1959, and on Saturday the facility launched its 32nd submarine, the Houston, in ceremonies attended by Vice President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, who christened the vessel.
The Houston is the third submarine of five the shipyard initially was contracted to build in August 1975. Construction on the fourth is scheduled to begin later this year, and will get under way on the fifth later in 1982. Neither have been named yet.
In ignoring competitive bidding and arbitrarily awarding the contract for three Los Angeles class nuclear submarines to the Newport News yard, Navy Secretary John Lehman bypassed the proposal submitted by Electric Boat, the only other shipyard capable of building submarines.
Lehman has expressed grave concern over what he believes are Electric Boat's poor management, defective workmanship, delays in delivery schedules and costly overruns within the 21 submarines it is now building for the Navy.
In a prepared statement rebutting the harsh criticism Electric Boat feels it recently has received, the Connecticut yard said it has recognized and corrected its problems.
But in a letter to David Lewis, chairman of the board for General Dynamics, Lehman said, "Good intentions and optimistic hopes" are not the basis for national security.
Lehman has asked that Electric Boat appoint representatives to meet with Navy officials so steps can be taken to correct the problems plaguing the submarine program at its yard. He wants milestones by which to measure the progress of those steps in the coming months.
By working with Electric Boat to iron out its difficulties and awarding three new submarines to the Newport News Shipyard, Lehman feels he is making sure the country maintains "more than one yard capable of doing this type of work."
Reflecting on the problems at Electric Boat, Griffith said the Navy generally has been pleased with delivery schedules and cost performances at the Newport News shipyard.
Today the yard's work force numbers 24,750, and will probably remain stable for the rest of the year. Whether more employes will be hired as the workload increases remains to be seen, said Griffith. Workers could be shifted from existing construction to new construction.
"We've already laid the groundwork for future work, "said Griffith.
With its enlarged and modernized facilities, the Newport News Shipyard is now building an aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson, to be delivered in March 1982 and a second carrier, yet unnamed, is in initial stages of construction for delivery in 1987.
Virginia's first district representative, Republican Paul S. Trible, said Lehman awarded the contracts to the Newport News yard to keep it in the sub building business. "Electric Boat is obviously having problems. It is over two years behind schedule on the Trident and its attack sub program. At Electric Boat, it also takes longer and costs 50 percent more to build the attack subs," said Trible.
Average cost of the first five Los Angeles class subs built at the Newport News yard was $98 million, compared to an average cost of $148 million at Electric Boat. The Los Angeles class is made up of 37 subs, all approved and funded, with two more, requested in the 1982 Defense budget. The first 33 have been contracted for with 13 going to Newport News and 20 to Electric Boar. Eleven have been delivered -- five from Newport News and six from Electric Boat.
"It's important that we strengthen our Navy and move ahead. The Soviets have three times as many submarines as we do," said Trible. "And they are building annually three to four times as many more."
Presently, the Navy has 76 attack subs, but defense supporters say 100 are needed to maintain national security. Modern submarines are basically two types -- ballistic and attack subs that knock out enemy ships and protect their own ships.
Pointing out the Newport News Shipyard's good performance record, Trible said the Virginia facility hasn't had the kinds of problems seen at Electric Boat, and he doesn't anticipate there will be any in the future.
"If shipyards want to build Navy ships, they are going to have to keep their houses in order," and the Newport News yard is doing that, said Trible.