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Navy Acquisition Chief: Surge to 355 Ships 'Easily Done'

The Navy's production lines are hot and the work to prepare them for the possibility of building out a much larger fleet would be manageable, the service's head of acquisition said Thursday.

From a logistics perspective, building the fleet from its current 274 ships to 355, as recommended in the Navy's newest force structure assessment in December, would be straightforward, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley told reporters at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium.

"By virtue of maintaining these hot production lines, frankly, over the last eight years, our facilities are in pretty good shape," Stackley said. "In fact, if you talked to industry, they would say we're underutilizing the facilities that we have."

The areas where the Navy would likely have to adjust "tooling" to answer demand for a larger fleet would likely be in Virginia-class attack submarines and large surface combatants, the DDG-51 guided missile destroyers -- two ship classes likely to surge if the Navy gets funding to build to 355 ships, he said.

"Industry's going to have to go out and procure special tooling associated with going from current production rates to a higher rate, but I would say that's easily done," he said.

Another key, Stackley said, is maintaining skilled workers -- both the builders in the yards and the critical supply-chain vendors who provide major equipment needed for ship construction. And, he suggested, it would help to avoid budget cuts and other events that would force workforce layoffs.

"We're already prepared to ramp up," he said. "In certain cases, that means not laying off the skulled workforce we want to retain."

The Navy's current plan calls for 308 ships by 2021. Officials have said next year's shipbuilding plan will likely call for a larger fleet, but it's not yet clear if the Navy will receive funding for the 355 ships leaders believe they need to accomplish the service's missions.

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