Since coming into office, the Obama Administration has been focused on making military procurement more efficient. The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics has formulated a wide range of policies and initiatives designed to streamline the acquisition process and rein in costs. Millions of dollars and tens of thousands of man-hours have been spent on this effort.
Yet, there is a program, one begun well before the current group of defense officials arrived at the Pentagon, which stands as the poster child for doing procurement the right way. What makes this program even more impressive is that it is for a major weapons system.
I am referring to the Virginia-class attack submarine program. In a determined effort to reduce both the cost and the length of time it took to build the submarine, the Navy’s program office for submarines, in close cooperation with the two companies building the sub — Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding (now part of Huntington Ingalls) — created a “design for affordability” program.
Using advanced computer-aided design techniques and innovative manufacturing procedures, the program has squeezed hundreds of millions of dollars in cost out of the construction of each submarine. In addition, the time to completion for the latest submarine built has been reduced by almost two years.
As a result of this successful effort, the submarine program has now begun construction of its second boat in a single year. The move to a two-a-year build rate not only facilitates more efficient production but helps to ensure that the number of attack subs in the fleet does not go below a critical threshold.
As the Department of Defense looks at how to manage projected defense budget cuts, it should ensure that nothing is done to alter the successful trajectory of the Virginia-class submarine construction program.
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