As U.S. Navy officials continue to deliberate the size and makeup of their fleet, the Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association watches for clues about what its future workload will look like.
Ship repair is a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually in San Diego. The task of repairing, repainting and upgrading ships in the region largely falls to private businesses.
Unlike other ports, there is no Navy-run shipyard in San Diego.
Such work excludes new construction at General Dynamics NASSCO, a business that also repairs Navy ships.
In recent years, San Diego has benefited from more ships arriving in the port as the Navy has transferred assets to the Pacific. During the next five years, the Navy plans to decrease the overall number of its ships fleet-wide by 10 or 15, said Derry Pence, president of the ship repair association. The service wants to “divest to invest,” Pence said.
The association, which has approximately 150 members, regularly posts news about evolving shipbuilding and decommissioning plans on its Facebook page.
The Navy’s top priorities are its aircraft carriers as well as its submarines, including the next-generation Columbia-class ballistic missile subs that will form part of the United States’ nuclear triad. Surface warfare ships and amphibious ships, such as those at the 32nd Street naval base, take a lower priority.
According to news accounts from the nonprofit U.S. Naval Institute, the Navy plans to decommission many of its Littoral Combat Ships, including the USS Jackson and USS Montgomery, both based in San Diego. In addition, the Navy is phasing out its Ticonderoga-class cruisers.
Meanwhile, the Navy is exploring its options with unmanned ships. There have already been several in the port of San Diego, including the Sea Hunter. The good news for the industry is even unmanned vessels have to be maintained. While such ships don’t need crew quarters, and require computing and software work, there is still familiar work to be done on propulsion, electrical and weapons systems, Pence said.
Maintaining the Destroyer Fleet
The Navy is investing in midlife upgrades to its Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and there are many of them. “There is going to be a lot of good work for the industry,” Pence said. Such ships carry the Aegis weapon system and guided missiles. A contract for extensive work on a destroyer can bring business approaching the $100 million mark over multiple years to the San Diego waterfront.
For example, this month, BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair expects to begin work on an $89.4 million contract for work on the USS Mustin. The deal was awarded in March and is expected to wrap up in November 2023. At its option, the Navy could order more work, bringing the contract’s value to $95.2 million.
Crews will go to work at BAE’s shipyard in Barrio Logan, according to a spokesman. During the depot modernization period, BAE Systems will repair, maintain and modernize the ship, recondition engineering spaces, refurbish the crew’s living spaces, upgrade command and control equipment and upgrade high-priority warfare systems.
The Navy indicated that there was more than one bidder for the work. Bidding was open to shipyards on the West Coast including a competitor in the Pacific Northwest.
NASSCO is at work on several projects, including a $121.1 million deal on the destroyer USS Pickney and a $128.2 million deal on the amphibious ship USS Comstock.