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Electric Boat facing more work than at any point in company's history

A demand for more advanced and stealthy U.S. submarines, driven by continued investments by China and Russia in their undersea fleets, means Electric Boat is facing more work than at any other point in the submarine builder’s history, president Kevin Graney said.

The company has a $39 billion backlog in work, including two new ballistic missile submarines and 19 new attack submarines, 11 of which are under construction, Graney said Monday, delivering the company’s annual business outlook to stakeholders at a virtual briefing.

To counter a rising China and Russia, seen as the United States' top adversaries in the years to come, the U.S. Navy is proposing an ambitious ramp-up in new submarine construction and is considering refueling, as opposed to decommissioning, as many as seven attack submarines to extend their life at sea.

“This increased demand requires additional investment across the submarine industrial base, that is, the suppliers and the shipyards, and will significantly increase demand for maintenance and modernization of existing ships,” Graney said.

The demand for submarines has been met with support from Congress, which has increased funding for submarine programs from about $11.1 billion last fiscal year to $11.6 billion this fiscal year.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who attended Monday’s virtual briefing, said they were confident the new administration would continue to support the submarine buildup.

Graney said the company has spent years preparing for the unprecedented level of work, including hiring thousands of new employees and making significant investments in its supply chain and its facilities.

Last year, the company hired just under 2,000 new employees, including 567 people to support operations at Quonset Point, R.I., where submarine hulls are constructed, and 154 to support operations at the Groton shipyard. Another 905 people were hired for engineering and design jobs, and 371 were hired for support roles.

More than 2,000 employees are expected to be hired this year, Graney said, mostly for work at Quonset Point. Of the expected hires, 1,300 will be for jobs at Quonset Point, 100 will support operations in Groton, 600 will fill engineering and design roles, and 200 will take on support jobs.

The company will be in a "stable hiring mode pretty much for the next decade," said Graney, who tells new hires these aren't just jobs, but longterm careers.

Gov. Ned Lamont, who attended the virtual briefing, said his job is to ensure Connecticut workers fill the openings at EB.

At the same time, EB is relying on a smaller and less mature supplier base than existed during previous shipbuilding booms. A recent congressional watchdog report noted the company now has about 5,000 suppliers compared to the 17,000 it had during the height of the Cold War.

Graney said the company has used funding it received from Congress in recent years to help develop the supply base. At this point, 90% of the company's suppliers "are ready now to support the work that we've got ahead of us," Graney said. The company has spent a "considerable amount of effort" to ensure the remaining 10% will be ready, he said.

Over the past five years, about $25 billion in work went to 2,700-plus submarine suppliers across the country, Graney said. Of that, about $1 billion went to the company's 392 suppliers in Connecticut.

The historic workload comes as Connecticut and the U.S. continue to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and as the vaccine rollout slowly picks up speed.

EB, deemed an essential business during the pandemic given its work in support of national security, has continued to operate with about 4,000 of its 17,000 employees working from home at any given time.

The company has administered 20,000 COVID-19 tests, a combination of antigen and antibody tests, to its employees since the pandemic began, Graney said.

EB has reported more than 1,300 confirmed cases among its employees throughout the pandemic. The majority of the employees who have contracted COVID-19 have recovered and returned to work.

EB has registered as a vaccination site in both Connecticut and Rhode Island and is prepared to vaccinate its entire workforce when the time comes, Graney said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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