WASHINGTON -- The Navy wants to hire about 2,000 new shipyard workers to help make more repairs to surface warships and keep them in service longer, said Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, the Navy's top commander for ship maintenance.
Hiring more workers is a critical component in the Navy's plan to increase the fleet to 350 ships, Moore said Thursday at a panel at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank.
The Navy needs the extra workers so it can conduct the needed depot work to add five to 10 additional years of service to the U.S. surface fleet -- vessels such as destroyers, cruisers and transport ships.
If the fleet's service can be extended, and the Navy continues to receive budget increases to buy additional ships, it could potentially increase to 355 ships by the 2020s, instead of the 2040s as planned now, Moore said. There are 272 ships in the Navy. The 2018 budget recently proposed by President Donald Trump included $21 billion to build eight new ships, including the final costs of the almost complete aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy and the funds to start another new carrier, two destroyers, two submarines, one littoral combat ship and an oiler.
"We could probably shave 10 to 15 years off of what it would take you to get to 355," by increasing the amount of maintenance performed on the fleet, Moore said.
In the last year, citing budget uncertainty, a number of contractor-run shipyards that serve the Navy have laid off several hundred workers at some of the nation's major shipbuilding yards in San Diego and Newport News, Va., including BAE Systems, Newport News Shipbuilding and General Dynamics.
This year, as Trump took office and instituted a 90-day federal hiring freeze, the administration exempted federal shipyard workers and depot maintenance employees, noting the important functions of those workers. Last month, the administration proposed a 2018 budget for the Navy, which would increase the service's spending plan by $12.6 billion from last year. Part of the funds would be used to hire new federal shipyard employees.
"We need to grow the size of the naval shipyards," Moore said. "There are 33,850 people today, we are going to grow that to about 36,100."
About half of the new hires would be funded in the next few months through the 2018 budget, to increase the number of full-time federal shipyard employees to 34,988 at the Navy's four public shipyards, according to budget documents. The Navy's four shipyards are located in Bremerton, Wash., Norfolk, Va., Kittery, Maine and Pearl Harbor.