GROTON, Conn. (AP) -- Navy contractor Electric Boat expects to grow significantly in the years ahead despite an expected decline in U.S. defense spending because of strong support for the strategic roles played by submarines, the company's president said Tuesday.
The Groton-based submarine builder employs about 12,000 people, mainly in Connecticut and Rhode Island. It expects the number of jobs to hold steady before ramping up significantly near the end of the decade for work on a new class of ballistic-missile submarines that the Navy has described as its top priority program.
The company already has 1,900 people doing design and development work for the 12 submarines, which are expected to cost $5.4 billion each and become the next generation of vessels with long-range missiles intended to help deter a nuclear attack.
"Our engineers and designers on this program are developing new submarine technologies, systems and processes that include key improvements and capabilities such as increased stealth and an electric drive propulsion system," company president Jeffrey Geiger said at a meeting with Connecticut officials. He was meeting later with Rhode Island officials.
Geiger said the company, which did $4 billion in sales last year, is seeing strong support continue for submarine programs. The Navy has said its battalion commanders have more demands for attack submarines than the fleet can meet, and Geiger said an increased focus on the Pacific region means greater reliance on the Navy.
Construction of the ballistic-missile submarines is expected to begin in 2021, with the first boats in the new class beginning patrols in 2030. The chief of naval operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, testified in September that the subs to replace the Ohio class vessels are the "top priority program for the Navy."
Geiger said that program is expected to boost employment, including a jump from 2,900 workers to 6,000 by 2020 at the company's facility in Quonset Point, R.I. Despite the growth projected over the long term, he said there may be some cyclical job reductions at the Groton shipyard in a year or so as the company completes modernization projects.
The biggest project at Electric Boat is currently construction of Virginia-class attack submarines. The company is building two a year in partnership with Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.
The company is gearing up for other projects including upgrades to the Virginia-class submarines, in which it is adding 70-foot sections to the hulls for cruise missiles. It is also planning to build training modules for submarines that are moored in Charleston, S.C., for use in teaching Navy officers how to handle nuclear technology.