title picture
Photo by Molly Little

by Molly Little

Rear Adm. William Hilarides serves as the sixth Program Executive Officer for Submarines (PEO SUBS). In this capacity, he is responsible for all new-construction submarines as well as the acquisition and life cycle maintenance of submarine weapons, countermeasures, sensors, combat control, and imaging systems.

Raised in Chicago, Rear Adm. Hilarides attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science in Physics. He has served in a number of billets aboard submarines, including USS Pargo (SSN-650), USS Gurnard (SSN-662), and USS Maryland (SSBN-738). His at-sea services culminated with command of USS Key West (SSN-722) from May 1998 to November 2000. He also served in several shore billets, including flag lieutenant to Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; personnel assignment officer at the Bureau of Naval Personnel; action officer on the Joint Staff in the Force Structure, Requirements, and Assessment Directorate; and acquisition branch head on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations.

In 2002, Read Adm. Hilarides became an acquisition professional and subsequently served as Director, Advanced Submarine Research and Development, and as the conversion manager and then program manager of the SSGN Program.

Rear Adm. Hilarides recently discussed the current and future states of submarine acquisition with UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine.

image, with caption to follow
Texas(SSN-775) exits the Thames River as it departs Naval Submarine Base New London en route to its new home port in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Myers

As the Virginia class transitions from an acquisition program into an operational program, can you touch on some recent successes and current and future initiatives?

The Virginia class’s transition to an operational program is a huge win for the Fleet. In fact, USS New Hampshire (SSN-778) recently completed the class’s third pre-PSA [post shakedown availability] deployment. PSA is the maintenance availability we do right after a submarine is built to fix any issues we identified in the boat’s shakedown trials. We’ve actually deployed three of the five commissioned Virginias before PSA — which is unprecedented for the Submarine Force, and pretty much for shipbuilding. Also, USS Virginia (SSN-774), the first of the class, is now preparing for her first regular deployment this fall. That’s huge. She is done with all of her construction, testing, and modernization and is ready to go do what we designed her to do — which is the business of submarine deployments and missions.

Additionally, USS Hawaii (SSN-776) transitioned homeports from Groton, Conn., to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, this summer as part of our force realignment, and USS Texas (SSN-775) also transitioned to Pearl Harbor in the Fall. USS North Carolina (SSN-777) is undergoing PSA now. That’s the operational end of the Virginia class and pretty much touches all five boats that are done so far. The sixth boat, USS New Mexico (SSN-778), will be delivered to the Navy by the end of the year, so it’s all very good news.

We’ve had several programmatic successes over the course of the past year or so. First and foremost is the signing of the multi-year procurement contract, or Block III, which took place in December 2008. It is a tremendous step for the Submarine Force and an important accomplishment for the whole organization here in Team Submarine. That contract buys eight submarines for the five fiscal years [FY] from 2009 through 2013 and begins our procurement of two per year in 2011.

Successful execution of the high-profile cost-reduction program was imperative to the Block III contract; you may recall the “2 for 4 in 12” [two subs for $4 billion in FY2012] slogan that we attached to the program. We budgeted for and subsequently achieved that cost-reduction goal without removing any of the class’s capabilities. It’s important to note that the $2 billion per sub in the “2 for 4 in 12” is in 2005 dollars. When you convert the amount to real dollars, the dollars in FY12, it’s actually $2.59 billion. Now, a lot of people forget that, and they say, ‘Wait a second, a $2-billion submarine actually costs $2.59 billion?’ No, it’s exactly as we said. There was always that FY05 to FY12 jump, and the $2 billion to $2.59 billion reflects the facts of inflation during that period.

Getting support for that contract required tremendous effort at getting the construction cost down. The cost-reduction effort really highlights the close relationship between our shipbuilding partners General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding-Newport News (NGSB), the government, and all the performers on the contract — the people who make the combat systems, the sonar, etc. We tasked everybody to go out and find ways to reduce costs to make that acquisition goal happen. We invested in our shipbuilders and the other companies that provide systems and parts for Virginia, and everybody came through; everybody did their part. The team pulled together to accomplish a spectacular feat by achieving significant cost reduction on a shipbuilding program that was already in serial production.

Figuring out what that team can do in the future is something we’ve challenged ourselves with, so we’ve begun a program to reduce the total ownership cost of the Virginia class. The total ownership cost really refers to not just the acquisition cost, or what we pay upfront, but what we pay through the whole life of the platform. The focus to date has been predominantly on the acquisition cost, with an eye towards the cost through life, but now we have an opportunity with the team focused on the design of the ship for the next block of submarines that will go under contract in about four years. They are asking, “What could we do to that design to make it the most affordable platform for the whole 33 years that it will be in service?” They’re looking at all parts of the ship and its life cycle to figure out how we can make it the most affordable ship for the far future of the Navy. You might ask the question, “Why now? Aren’t most of the Virginia class built?” Well, there are 18 ships in Blocks I through III, and the class is scheduled for a total of 30 submarines, so that investment is a good one for the future.

A key part of any large acquisition program like the Virginia class is a thorough test program overseen by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation [DOT&E] at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The Virginia test program is the most thorough we’ve ever done for a submarine. Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL), a critical part of the test program, evaluated Virginia’s performance in her seven mission areas of anti-submarine warfare [ASW]; anti-surface warfare [ASuW]; strike; irregular warfare [IW]; special operations forces [SOF]; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance [ISR]; and mine warfare [MIW]. We tested everything from strike capabilities, by launching TOMAHAWK cruise missiles, to SOF, by utilizing the lock-in/lock-out chambers aboard Virginia. We have completed the initial operational test and evaluation, performed well, and have been recommended for full fielding in the Fleet. For the most part, that marks the end of the acquisition milestones in acquiring a platform. We set a requirement in the mid-1990s, created a construction program, and worked our way through all of the issues associated with construction. Now, as Virginia prepares to go on her first deployment, she has earned her grade from the operational testers. DOT&E said she’s good to go, operationally suitable, and effective for all her mission areas — which is the highest mark a program can receive. Everybody that’s worked on this program for the last 20 years can feel a great deal of pride out of seeing their ship do well in that sort of final exam.

The Navy is currently conducting an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) for the Ohio-class SSBN [ballistic mission submarine] successor; can you discuss the Ohio Replacement Program as it stands now and the way ahead to get the first of the class delivered in 2025?

Probably the most frequent and important question I get asked about Ohio-class replacement is — why now? There are three driving factors that make now the right time. First and foremost is that it takes about 20 years to go through the concept formulation, design, and construction process. So if I need a ship in 20 years to maintain the required force levels, then now is the time to start that long process to get a ship into production. The second is that the design base at General Dynamics Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman-Newport News, which is an industrial base I’m charged with trying to sustain, is coming off the Virginia-class cost-reduction effort. It is at the point where if we take no action, the design work force would be laid off, and they would go find other work to do, and the nation would lose a critical asset. But by starting in 2010, we sustain that industrial base out into the far future. The nation needs that. The third reason is that we have a long-standing, 40-year collaboration with the United Kingdom [UK] on SSBNs — their Vanguard class and our Ohio class. If you were to look inside the missile compartments of these separate classes, they look exactly the same, because they’re built on the same set of plans and are built for the same missiles. We fully intend to have that cooperation proceed into the far future. However, the UK’s need is a little bit ahead of us. The Vanguard class begins to decommission a bit before our boats, in 2024, so their missile compartment work needs to start a little sooner than ours. That gets us started on a missile compartment design now in support of their program. If I take all three of those together, that means that now is the sweet spot of when I should start. If I wait longer, I risk being able to replace our boats when they hit the end of their service life, I risk maintaining submarine industrial base capability, I risk reaching a design mature enough to meet construction start targets, and I put the UK program at some amount of risk.

As for where we stand and the way ahead, the Ohio-class replacement program is a formal program here at Team Submarine with its own program manager, Capt. David Bishop. Obviously, there have been months of preparation for the Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) and the work in support of the AoA. Now, as the AoA wraps up, the work is defining the requirements for the platform, what that ship needs to look like, etc., as we work the POM [program objective memorandum] 10 budget through Congress. The [FY10] budget contains about $500 million of research and development for the platform and the process of setting the requirements for the platform. That work is really the work of the coming months, as the Navy takes the results of the AoA and turns it into a Capabilities Development Document (CDD) with detailed requirements needed to support the design of the ship. Following approval, the CDD comes back to us on the procurement side to make the program a reality. The requirements process involves multiple stakeholders and will ensure we appropriately balance performance, cost and schedule as we refine the program, resulting in the right platform to address the strategic needs of our Nation.

There are a couple things we do know already about the class. The first of our current SSBNs begins to decommission in 2027, when the USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730) comes off the line, so we need a boat on deployment by then in order to have a one-for-one replacement. The ship that deploys to replace Henry M. Jackson will be based around the TRIDENT D5 missile, which is the missile we currently have on the Ohio class. That gives us an idea about what the submarine is going to look like. The D5 missiles are about 40 feet long and seven feet in diameter, which defines the size of the missile tube required for the Ohio replacement. Secondly, our existing infrastructure must also be able to accommodate the new submarine — the dry docks that exist, the weapon-handling facilities, the moorings and pier facilities, the dredged channels, etc. While not technological limits, they are limits that, as taxpayers, we prudently respect. The last thing you want is to have to go dredge new channels or manufacture new dry docks to support a new class. So the timing when that first ship has to be on deployment, the weapons system she will carry, and the infrastructure that supports her really form the basis of the requirement for the platform. We’ll then take the rest of the aspects of the class that the Navy wants, such as how stealthy the platform has to be, and incorporate them. This submarine will be in service until about 2080, so trying to anticipate the kind of threats that will be out there in those years is somewhat difficult: what sonar and sensors will be on the ship, how many missile tubes, etc. Those decisions are some of the many decisions out in front of the Navy with this new class, and we really have to get them right. One of the primary causes for programmatic cost increases is design changes, and if we do not lay a solid foundation now, in the program’s earliest stages, we could find ourselves paying hefty cost and schedule penalties when we start detailed design work and construction.

image, caption to follow
Rear Adm. Hilarides addresses the audience during his Sept. 1, 2009 promotion to Rear Admiral Upper Half. Photo by John Cooner

There has been a lot of discussion in the press regarding DoD acquisition reforms.
What are you doing in this vital area as PEO Submarines?

Current acquisition reform legislation will strengthen the oversight roles of organizations reviewing acquisition programs. In my opinion the legislation is in response to programs that haven’t done well. The principle thrust of acquisition reform is to ensure compliance with established rules and requirements, thereby enabling goal attainment. People fall into trouble when they don’t estimate correctly, don’t fund to the estimates they know are correct, and have trouble executing their contracts to that funding. First and foremost, I think it is about execution, and if there’s one thing we pride ourselves on at Team Submarine, it is execution. Viewing the legislation as a success-enabler, I think we are generally moving in the right direction.

The thing I find most exciting about the acquisition reform language is that it really directs us to bring back into the government those functions that belong in the government. For the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve been downsizing our acquisition workforce, trusting contractors to do much of the work that had always been in the government, and, in some cases, hiring into program offices contractor support to perform core program-office functions. A lot of the language directs us to bring those functions back in the government, move those contract support folks out of the program offices, and bring in government people in their place. In many cases that is really just hiring the contractors into the program offices, and I see that as a real plus for the acquisition workforce. Most of the success in acquisition comes from experience. Experience comes from people in the government that have been doing this for a long time. However, a lot of those people have left, so we have to re-grow the support by bringing in new people and then executing programs that are in place.

The other part of the acquisition reform that is out there is a real focus on competition. We’ve been going through the entire Team Submarine portfolio over the last few years, identifying every place where we could conduct competitions. As a result, over the last two years, and for the next two years, we will compete pretty much all of the contracts for the front-end systems on the submarines. The imaging system programs have an ongoing competition which, frankly, should be awarded very soon. The same goes for the BYG-1 Combat System. The request for proposal [RFP] for the A-RCI [Acoustic Rapid COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) Insertion] sonar system begins the process of competing the integration role for the sonar systems for all of our submarine classes. On its heels are the competitions for both heavyweight and lightweight torpedoes, which will take place over the next 18 months or so.

On the shipbuilding front, the Virginia class is in serial production and on track to increase its build rate in 2011. These submarines are built under a unique teaming arrangement which really requires us to use both GDEB and NGSB to construct our submarines. This tends to look like a two-source contract but in fact operates much more like an alliance contract as you see in some of the European shipbuilding programs. An alliance contract defines the scope that each contractor will work on and then defines how they’ll share the profits from executing that scope. We see some of the benefits of two shipbuilders working together towards a common goal in that program.

Any parting thoughts?

Overall, this is a very exciting time to be at Team Submarine. We’re transitioning our premiere attack submarine from its acquisition phase into an operational, fully deployable asset; we’re endeavoring to reduce acquisition and ownership costs across our programs and hitting those marks we’ve set for ourselves; and we’re spinning up on our next-generation ballistic missile submarine because now is the right time to start. We must ensure this platform meets our affordability and capability goals so we can maintain an effective deterrent force over the life of the ship. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but we have done the tough advance work to produce the right platforms and systems on cost and on time.

Ms. Little is a former managing editor of Undersea Warfare magazine.