Navy Secretary: Resolving Shipyard Backlog Is Crucial

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer speaks during an all-hands call with Sailors at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI), Oct. 17, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Wood) Richard V. Spencer visited the Puget Sound area on Tuesday to visit Navy facilities and related industries in the Pacific Northwest.

The Kitsap Sun spoke with Spencer for a few minutes about the possibility of a larger Navy fleet and the future of Puget Sound naval installations before he jumped on a plane back to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday afternoon.

Spencer was sworn in as the 76th Secretary of the Navy on Aug. 3. Spencer served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a helicopter pilot until he was honorably discharged at the rank of captain in 1981. After his military service, Spencer went on to a career in the private financial sector, working on Wall Street at the helm of various investment and venture capital firms.

Spencer arrived on Sunday and toured Boeing facilities in Renton and Everett on Monday before visiting the Vigor Shipyard in Seattle. Spencer stopped at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island on Tuesday morning before touring the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility.

Spencer has been an advocate for increasing the Navy’s fleet size to 355 ships as outlined in a December 2016 force structure assessment, up from the current fleet size that ranges from 270 to 290 ships.

“The 355 fleet size is a goal we want to attain,” Spencer said. “The question is how and when.”

The targeted fleet size calls for increasing the number of active-service aircraft carriers from 11 to 12 and the number of attack submarines from 48 to 66. Spencer did not yet know if that meant additional subs or carriers would be homeported at Naval Base Kitsap .

“The placement of them obviously takes a lot of thought and consideration because it involves quite a lot of infrastructure,” Spencer said.

Spencer said an increased fleet size will likely result in more homeported guided missile destroyers at Naval Station Everett .

Rumors have swirled about recommissioning the former USS Kitty Hawk to bring up the number of aircraft carriers in the fleet up to 12, but Spencer said that would be unlikely.

“The business case for the Kitty Hawk would be a fairly big stretch,” Spencer said.

The Kitty Hawk was the last conventionally powered aircraft carrier in active service in the fleet. The ship was decommissioned at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 2009 after 48 years of active service, and it has been held in reserve status ever since. It is currently slated for dismantling.

“The only project that we have that has some activity going on is bringing back the Perry-class frigates, possibly,” Spencer said.The Navy would have to balance the cost of bringing additional ships into the fleet while addressing aging infrastructure problems that are beginning to impact fleet readiness, according to a Government Accountability Office report published in September.”There’s only so many dollars in the pocketbook,” Spencer said. “We’re going to […]