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.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

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

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


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