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    Diving Deep: The U.S. Navy’s $500 Million Bet on Submarine Innovation and the BlueForge Alliance

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    In a decisive stride to reinforce its submarine manufacturing capabilities, the U.S. Navy has committed an impressive $500 million to the Texas-based nonprofit organization, BlueForge Alliance. 

    This figure is expected to increase further. Announced during a discussion at the Naval Sea Systems Command on June 6, this investment is intended to strengthen the submarine manufacturing sector in preparation for imminent strategic defense requirements, including those associated with the AUKUS agreement.

    Founded by Kiley Wren and Rob Gorham, BlueForge Alliance has quickly become a prominent entity in the sector since its creation in November 2022. The alliance has collaborated with the U.S. Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat, aiming to bolster the workforce by 100,000 within the next ten years.

    In a statement, Matt Sermon, executive director of the program executive office for strategic submarines, detailed that an additional $605 million from the fiscal year 2024 national security supplemental is expected to be channeled through BlueForge.

    The collaborative work between the Navy and BlueForge has been transparent, with outreach efforts such as the BuildSubmarines.com website.

    The site communicates the Navy’s workforce requirements and has been promoted via billboards and advertisements at major events like MLB games, NASCAR races, and the Oscars.

    The origins of BlueForge’s partnership with the Navy and Electric Boat can be traced back to initiatives pitched for supplier and workforce development. Their performance in pilot programs demonstrated their capacity to add value to shipbuilders, which kickstarted the relationship. As Sermon explained, the programs showed that they “added capacity to that group, the shipbuilders.”

    BlueForge’s influence extends to leading an additive manufacturing consortium across several universities. This effort aligns with working with equipment manufacturers to ensure the submarine industrial base meets the necessary material maturity.

    The initiatives by BlueForge and their rapid scale-up reflect a broader movement within the U.S. Navy to invest in its industrial base. In a parallel effort, the Navy’s collaboration with SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) to recruit and train skilled workers supports a similar goal. Jeannine Kunz, SME’s Chief Workforce Development Officer, expressed the urgency of such collaborations to bridge the skills gap in the defense manufacturing workforce.

    Kunz highlighted the potential for local and national impact, noting that the partnership with BlueForge would “strengthen, grow, and accelerate this collaborative program.” This alliance targets not only immediate workforce needs but also aims to inspire and prepare future generations, with initiatives like the SME PRIME program to elevate technical education in high schools.

    Simultaneously, DARPA is progressing with the ANCILLARY program, hoping to equip Navy ship commanders with advanced ISR-T assets. The program seeks to develop a vertical-take-off-and-landing drone that requires minimal crew for operation, surpassing the capabilities of the legacy RQ-21 Blackjack.

    Steve Komadina, the program manager at DARPA, underscored the need for ship commanders to have “organic, long-range ISR-T” assets under their control.

    As the ANCILLARY program unfolds, Komadina revealed the operational vision, stating that the drones would “take off with the wing folded” before unfolding mid-flight, harmonizing the Navy’s requirements for a compact, high-endurance, and payload-capable UAS suitable for destroyer deployment.

    DARPA has selected six companies, including Northrop Grumman and Sikorsky, to move forward in the program, reflecting a confident step towards meeting future defense needs.

    The significant investments and strategic partnerships forged by the U.S. Navy with BlueForge Alliance, DARPA, and other industrial and educational entities underscore a determined effort to enhance the nation’s submarine and shipbuilding capabilities. These moves position the Navy to address the critical demands of the modern and future maritime defense landscape.

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