Roy Kitchener speaks
Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener speaks at the official opening of the Austal USA shipyard. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Austal USA officially opened a $100 million repair facility in National City on Monday to support the Navy’s increasing focus on the Pacific.

The 15-acre site on Bay Marina Drive at the south end of Naval Base San Diego will soon be joined by a 531-foot-long floating dry dock to support littoral combat ships, Coast Guard cutters and future Constellation-class frigates.

“The timeliness of this yard being established here can’t be overstated,” said Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander of naval surface forces, at the opening ceremony.

Docked behind him was the future USS Canberra, the 15th littoral combat ship built by Austal and based in San Diego. While the monohull variant of these ships has faced technical challenges, Austal’s aluminum trimaran version has proven successful and four more are under construction in Alabama.

Kitchener said that at any time four Austal-built warships are on station in the Pacific Ocean to counter rising threats.

Austal officials said the San Diego facility could evolve from support and repair functions to the construction of smaller vessels. Currently 120 people are employed, but the company expects to ramp up to as many as 400.

“We will be a strong corporate citizen. We’re thrilled to be here,” said Austal USA President Rusty Murdaugh.

National City Mayor Ron Morrison agreed, noting that Austal has already pledged $250,000 for improvements to Pepper Park on Sweetwater Channel.

“This is the kind of business that you want in our community,” he said, adding that he hoped a future ship would be named after his city.

The new shipyard focused on smaller naval vessels complements facilities operated by NASSCO and BAE on the north end of Naval Base San Diego that can handle the largest ships.

It is Austal’s third major facility, after its main shipyard in Alabama and a repair yard in Singapore.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.