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Navy considers building first-of-its-kind ‘dry dock production facility’ at Pearl Harbor

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (US Navy/WikiCommons)

The Navy said it is “investigating” building a new dry dock at Pearl Harbor — its first since World War II — and using the excavated material to fill in Dry Dock 3, where a first-of-its-kind “dry dock production facility” would be built to improve waterfront efficiency.

The planned additions are not the only changes at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the state’s largest industrial employer with a civilian and military workforce of about 6,500.

A new contracting approach is in place for surface ship work at Dry Dock 4 that saw the withdrawal of BAE Systems as a prime contractor using cost reimbursement contracts, and a switch to firm-fixed-price work, increasing opportunities for smaller business. “Firm fixed price” means no adjustment for cost overruns.

The Defense Department recently awarded ship repair contracts to several Hawaii and mainland companies for up to $851 million in work through 2024.

The shipyard has seen a parade of officials visiting Dry Dock 3 in recent weeks with the Navy investing $21 billion in the nation’s four public yards over the next 20 years as part of its “shipyard infrastructure optimization program.”

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Pearl Harbor will be the first shipyard to undergo major infrastructure upgrades, the Navy said.

“Our naval shipyards are a national treasure. If we’re going to compete and win at a global scale, it’s going to be because we have these naval shipyards delivering for us,” James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said during a Feb. 13 visit to Pearl Harbor.

Geurts said the Hawaii plan involves billions in construction that will benefit local workers.

A surge in demand for attack submarines due to competition with China and the lengthening of Virginia- class subs to carry more missiles has the Navy looking at building its first new dry dock at Pearl Harbor since 1943.

Four dry docks are in use. The oldest of them, Dry Dock 1, at 1,002 feet, was completed in 1919. Dry Dock 2, at 1,000 feet, was finished in 1941, according to the Defense Department.

Dry Dock 3, which is only 497 feet long, was completed in 1942, while Dry Dock 4, at 1,088 feet, was finished in 1943.

Three of the dry docks are used for submarine work, while No. 4, which is for surface ship repair.

Newer Virginia-class subs, at 377 feet, are longer than the older Los Angeles-class they are replacing, and those built with what’s known as a Virginia Payload Module will have an additional 84-foot midbody section with four vertical launch tubes capable of firing 28 additional Tomahawk missiles.

The improvement ups the $3.2 billion sub’s torpedo- size weapons to 65 from about 37, a congressional report said.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, all but Dry Dock 3 at Pearl Harbor can accommodate the new 460-foot lengthened Virginia subs. Construction begins this year with the first sub delivery in 2025.

The last major shipyard work on Los Angeles-class submarines is expected in 2022. “After that, the shipyard will focus on the Virginia class,” the Navy said.

The Navy previously talked about extending the 497-foot Dry Dock 3 inland and with a deeper “flood basin” at the entrance to better accommodate Virginia subs.

A floating dry dock at least 650 feet long also was considered. Cameron Salony, a shipyard spokesman, said a new land-based dry dock “would better support” ship repair work, and as a result, a floating dry dock is no longer being pursued.

“Engineering and cost analysis of extending Dry Dock 3 closely match the cost estimate to build a new, purpose-built graving dock,” Salony said in an email. “Therefore, the Navy is investigating building a new graving dock and using the dredged material to fill in Dry Dock 3.”

The filled-in site might then be used for a new “dry dock production facility” intended to be a covered, centralized location near the dry docks where many of the workshops can be consolidated to improve efficiency.

The Navy gave the example of submarine valves that need repair and inspection having to go through three separate shops. Having a dedicated valve repair area in the new production facility would reduce the turnover time by 40 days.

The Navy said it plans to award a construction contract for the production facility in early 2023 with completion in 2028.

Defense giant BAE Systems, meanwhile, is exiting the surface ship repair business at the Pearl Harbor shipyard after a more than 10-year run as the prime contractor.

The Navy’s new Multiple Award Contract, Multi Order, or MAC-MO, contracting strategy “offers a number of potential benefits” compared with the former Multi-Ship, Multi-Option, or MSMO, approach, including more competition, a 2016 U.S. GAO report said.

On Jan. 28 the Defense Department awarded surface ship repair contracts to Pacific Shipyard International of Honolulu, Marisco Ltd. of Kapolei, Propulsion Control Engineering of Aiea, Epsilon Systems Solutions Inc. of San Diego and Vigor Marine of Portland, Ore.

The firm-fixed-price work, for ships assigned to or visiting Pearl Harbor, includes options that, if exercised, bring the cumulative maximum payment to $851 million.

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