GROTON, Conn. - Electric Boat on Friday celebrated its biggest expansion at its Groton shipyard in more than 45 years, using a ceremonial groundbreaking to launch construction of a massive assembly building in Groton for its next-generation Columbia-class nuclear submarine.
Global military strategy is having a local impact as the subsidiary of General Dynamics Corp. benefits from U.S. military strategy that's turning to the oceans to check Russian and Chinese ambitions. The sub-builder is adding thousands of jobs as it expands to build an additional third submarine every year.
"These are the busiest times we've seen in a generation," Electric Boat President Jeffrey Geiger said.
About 100 EB workers, politicians and state and local officials gathered at the shipyard's future site of the assembly building to savor the prospect of thousands of well-paid, skilled manufacturing jobs coming to southeast Connecticut.
To keep up with the new submarine demand, EB has been hiring and expanding its supplier base. Last year, it surpassed 17,000 employees for the first time since 1992, up by 1,000, Geiger said in January. Of that, about 12,000 are in Connecticut. EB hired 2,241 workers last year and expects to bring on a total of 1,400 this year, with 500 in Quonset Point, R.I., in addition to the 900 in Connecticut.
Work continues on the Virginia-class submarine and the Vermont is scheduled to begin its initial sea trials next month, Geiger told the crowd. When the first modules of the Columbia submarine begin to arrive in Groton in 2023, it will be the first time since the early 2000s that EB is doing new construction work on two submarine classes at the same time, he said.
The 200,000-square-foot assembly building, which will jut into the Thames River, is part of an $850 million expansion at the shipyard. EB will expand and update other manufacturing spaces and build a floating dry dock to launch Columbia submarines.
Electric Boat is building two Virginia-class attack submarines a year and is designing the ballistic Columbia-class submarines to be ordered from 2021 to 2035, replacing the aging Ohio-class subs. Construction is expected to begin this year and extend to 2023, in time to receive submarine modules, the portions of the vessels that are built at Quonset Point, R.I. and shipped to Groton for assembly and construction.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, whose congressional district includes the shipyard, compared the planned assembly building as "basically the same size" as the MGM casino that opened last year in Springfield and that's seen as a threat to southeast Connecticut's other large industry.
"At one point, this project was somewhat uncertain," he said.
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A report in 2007 pointed out that submarine design work had stalled, Courtney said. The state's congressional delegation that year won approval for $8 million for submarine work, which "began the process of going up to tens of millions of dollars then hundreds of millions of dollars and now a couple of billion dollars a year in terms of the Columbia program."
Military leaders see the Columbia program as the Navy's No. 1 priority, Courtney said.
"What we're doing here is not really just about the regional economy," he said. "It's something extremely important to the country and we should all, all be proud of that," he said.
Courtney warned that EB is on a "knife-edged schedule" as the Navy prepares for the new class of submarines.
"We have got to get that first boat deployed in 2027 and 2028," he said. "We do not want to have any gap in terms of America's insurance policy, which is what this deterrent force, this second strike capability really means to our country."
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the nuclear submarine program is a reflection of what's needed in "the real world" that's more dangerous than ever in the past few decades.
"In the buildings that will come to this site, men and women will work for the rest of this century, or most of it, building ships that will protect America against those adversaries and deter them," he said.
The Columbia class program includes 12 ballistic missile submarines to replace the Navy's 14 aging Ohio-class submarines. The Navy, which has identified it as its top priority program, wants to take the first Columbia-class boat in 2021.
The Navy's proposed 2020 budget requests about $1.7 billion in advance funding and $533.1 million for research and development, according to the Congressional Research Service. The Navy estimates the total cost of the 12-ship class at $109 billion.
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