Frigate program delayed as shipyard is a ‘few hundred’ workers short

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ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Navy’s first Constellation-class guided-missile frigate will arrive late amid workforce shortages, a program official said Thursday.

Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin won a contract in April 2020 to build the first 10 ships. Construction on the first frigate began in September 2022, and four ships are now on contract.

The yard is a “few hundred” workers short, Andy Bosak, the deputy program manager, said in a presentation at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference, although he declined to say exactly how much it would delay the program.

“Much like the rest of industry … we are working on increasing the ship workforce, both the blue-collar and white-collar workforce,” he said.

As a result, “we do have a challenge in the schedule. We are working this. Fincantieri has communicated to us challenges within the schedule. We are doing our analysis, as the Navy does, doing deep dives on causes and effects and various different levers of which we can pull within that shipyard,” Bosak added.

He said Navy leaders will decide what to do going forward, and therefore determine the exact schedule impact.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced Thursday he has directed the ship acquisition community to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the Navy shipbuilding portfolio “to provide an assessment of national and local causes of shipbuilding challenges, as well as recommended actions for achieving a healthier U.S. shipbuilding industrial base that provides combat capabilities that our warfighters need, on a schedule that is relevant.”

This study is due in 45 days.

“I remain concerned with the lingering effects of post-pandemic conditions on our shipbuilders and their suppliers that continue to affect our shipbuilding programs, particularly our Columbia Class Ballistic Missile Submarines and Constellation Class Frigate,” Del Toro said in a statement.

Fincantieri Marinette Marine deferred to the Navy when asked for comment.

The delay comes as the Navy is increasing its procurement rate of the frigates. After buying one ship a year since fiscal 2020, the Navy in FY24 asked for two ships. This will begin a “sawtooth pattern” of alternating between one and two ships a year, as Fincantieri completes other ships on the production line and learns how to increase its throughput of frigate work.

Bosak said Fincantieri is finishing up the last remaining littoral combat ship work and will wrap up the Multi Mission Surface Combatant program for Saudi Arabia. Then, it will have more space and workforce to focus on the frigate.

Bosak said during his presentation Congress has allocated $50 million in FY23 to bolster the small surface combatant industrial base. The Navy and Fincantieri created a process to identify where they’d get the most out of the money, which includes initiatives aimed at the workforce at the yard and efforts to support suppliers.

He added that the frigate program is leveraging work done by the submarine community, which has established training pipelines and partnerships across the country to train new workers in welding, machining and other trades.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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