As the Navy looks to phase in a new class of submarines over the next 10 years, the infrastructure and workforce to repair and sustain future submarines become more important for Camden County’s local economy.
In a 2017 study, Kings Bay Naval SUBASE provides over $1 billion in economic impact to South Georgia and is Camden County’s largest enterprise. The ability to sustain the infrastructure and keep up with the new changes to receive the Columbia Class submarines starting in 2028 brings new challenges for the SUBASE’s economic viability and further workforce training needs at Trident Refit Facility (TRF). It is expected that the nation’s Columbia Class sub fleet will consist of 12 submarines, where 4 to 6 submarines could be stationed at Kings Bay. These Columbia Class subs will replace the 14 Ohio Class fleet over a period of time.
According to TRF Captain Paul Dinius, the dry dock infrastructure, along with 84 buildings, which make up the TRF facility, need updating of infrastructure to receive the new class of submarines. The covered dry dock was built over 30 years ago, and foundations have cracks and patching the leaks will not be sufficient moving forward.
“Not much has been modernized and updated in the buildings,” according to Dinius in a presentation to Navy League participants on May 14th.
The next generation of submarines, the Columbia Class, will show up in Kings Bay in 10 years and the current Ohio Class submarines will completely retire in 2042.
“We are ten years away from receiving the first submarine,” said Captain Dinius. “New buildings are needed for the anticipation of the new subs. The Columbia will have a different set of needs and capabilities such as buildings and infrastructure along with workforce needs.”
Dinius said it is time to start reviewing the plans to obtain funding based on the requirements needed to sustain TRF’s mission. Overhaul of the dry dock should start in 2021 with replacing large pumps and electrical support systems. The skin of the dry dock needs repair and revitalization.
The utilization rate of the dry dock is about 80 percent, which means that 80 percent of the time, there is a sub in the dry dock needing repair and maintenance. As the Columbia Class subs begin to come to Kings Bay, the Navy will start retiring the Ohio class subs. There will be a period of overlap between Ohio and Columbia subs. During this time some of the subs will be phased out to Bangor Washington. At this point, it is unclear if TRF will need to construct a new dry dock, but a new dry dock would require new space and other safety measures.
With different plans to phase in the new subs, along with more efficient refueling capacities of the Columbia Class subs, an extra dry dock may not be needed. Captain Dinius looks to review the revitalization of the current dry dock because other infrastructure must be addressed before more subs transition to Kings Bay.
Future workforce –
The Columbia Class submarine has a vast and complex computer network and electronics capability that is more sophisticated than the aging Ohio Class subs.
According to Captain Dinius, “More electronics technicians will be needed and will be more computer-based. The Columbia Class will have a robust integrated computer system that will operate the sub.”
Dinius, along with other TRF leaders, is expected meet with the Provost of the Technical College System of Georgia and the President of Coastal Pines Technical College to review the curriculum that will prepare future workers to meet the technical needs to maintain the Columbia Class subs.
“The extra work to maintain these boats will be more challenging and will require a skilled workforce to accommodate the new challenges,” said Dinius.
TRF employs close to 2000 employees – 1650 civilians and 300 military personnel. According to Dinius, the jobs needed in the future will require materials engineers along with an electronics skill set to sustain new weaponry systems.
TRF has 4-year training apprenticeship program where many of the highly trained aging workers, with deep skill sets, are being asked to teach and train new workers. But that is not a guarantee.
“My younger workforce does not have this deeper skill set. Two-hundred fifty people on any given day could walk out tomorrow,” according to Captain Dinius.
Participants at the meeting discussed how more marketing is needed to tell young people, and their parents, about the quality of training and pay these jobs offer.
“The challenge to getting students and parents to realize it requires a dense academic foundation to build those technical skills. This needs to be communicated and marketed early into the middle schools,” said Rachel Baldwin, a former high school youth apprenticeship coordinator.
Another participant, who taught high school in Charleston, South Carolina said “Everybody wants to think their kids can go to college. They think vocational skills and training is below their level. They do not realize you have to have strong academics to do these jobs. It’s half the training and double the pay. What more can we do to get the message out to parents?”
Dinius reiterated that he would be meeting with local technical college leaders to try get the the word out.
TRF had a job fair in April where they hired 77 people and the job fair in the fall where they secured 90 potential employees. Dinius said he would like to do another round of hiring in the fall to ensure he covers the gap of retirees that could leave at any time.