Tough Love

The Navy hopes stable demand and closer supervision will right the shipbuilding industry.

In an era of heightened interservice spats over budget shares and rising concerns over an impending budgetary bow wave, Navy leaders stunned the country's few remaining shipbuilders earlier this year when they objected to a congressional handout of more ship dollars in 2008.

For most services, more money for prized programs is a blessing. But Navy officials fear that rushing programs now would force its long-term shipbuilding plan off track, a move that could have potentially disastrous consequences.

Their fears are centered on the anemic shipbuilding industrial base, which has suffered through lean years due to dwindling and often erratic Navy ship orders.

"We're very concerned about the industrial base's limitations," Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter told reporters after testifying before the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in March. "The need and the availability of funding have got to get matched to the capacity of the industrial base."

At the same time, Winter is taking what analysts call a "tough-love" approach to the industry, whose cost overruns and schedule delays have become an all-too-common phenomenon.

Essentially, Winter has "laid down the gauntlet" and put industry on alert that he will not tolerate the status quo, says Robert O.Work, a senior naval analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

Work adds that Winter's intent is right, but the spat with the industrial base has become "very adversarial."

Indeed, Winter canceled Lockheed Martin Corp.'s contract for the third Littoral Combat Ship after service officials were unable to agree to a more stringent modified contract because of the ballooning cost of the company's first ship.

Winter also is overseeing a major restructuring of the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program, a General Dynamics sea and land platform that has been plagued by cost hikes and reliability glitches. And he has privately chastised Northrop Grumman Corp. officials for cost and schedule problems with its LPD-17 San Antonio class amphibious ship.

Winter's solution appears to be a multi- pronged approach that includes giving Navy officials more technical authority, improving their ability to set requirements within certain cost frameworks, and giving them better tools to understand and correct problems. For the industry, Winter is pushing officials to produce a quality product that comes in on time and within budget.

For their part, industry officials stress that increasing ship orders and injecting more stability into the Navy's long-term plans is the key to getting the nation's shipbuilders back on track.

Since Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who was confirmed as Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman on Aug. 3, unveiled his long-term shipbuilding plan more than a year ago, the industry has seen some progress in stabilization.

"We definitely give Adm. Mullen high marks in that regard, absolutely," says Cynthia L. Brown, president of the American Shipbuilding Association. "We went through a period of several years where the plan was changing almost quarterly. There was no predictability."

But stability isn't enough. The Navy, which has routinely slashed the number of ships it intends to buy, "cannot have anemic stable production runs," Brown adds. "It has to be larger production runs."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.