Naval Shipbuilders Try to Get More for Less

Friday, August 18, 2000
As it becomes abundantly clear that a major injection of dollars is not imminent for the U.S. Naval shipbuilding sector, industry leaders met recently to mull ideas on getting more for less. Several hundred people gathered at a recent Plenary Session of the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) to hear shipbuilding industry executives and Navy brass discuss how to produce more ships for the same dollar. Both agreed they must work together to achieve this goal.

"We are not making it in terms of a 300-ship Navy," said Vice Admiral Pete Nanos, Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command. "We are not going to make it unless some things change."

He explained that without an infusion of cash or the dramatic implementation of new technology and business processes, the U.S. Navy is in danger of falling below 300 ships, the minimum number it needs to fulfill its missions.

"If we are driven below a 300-ship Navy, we are not going to be able to provide the service this country has come to expect," Nanos said.

The U.S. Navy has a goal of building eight-12 new ships to its fleet each year in order to maintain its 300-ship fleet. In recent years, the Navy has not funded new ships at this rate because of budget cuts.

"The bottom line is we don't get enough money," said Paul Schneider, who is the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Research Development and Acquisition and was the keynote speaker for the session.

To fight this problem of producing more ships for the same dollar, the U.S. Navy and the CEOs of eleven major U.S. shipyards have jointly reenergized the National Shipbuilding Research Program and funded the MARITECH Advanced Shipbuilding Enterprise. The NSRP, through the MARITECH ASE program, awards research dollars to companies willing to promote the results across the shipbuilding industry. Research must target technologies and processes that reduce the cost of shipbuilding and improve efficiencies.

The NSRP is led by Harvey Walpert, who is chairman of its Executive Control Board. Walpert worked 22 years at Electric Boat and 22 years at Halter Marine before joining Bender Shipbuilding and Repair this year. "The keyword is collaboration," Walpert said. "There are no company-specific projects," he said, referring to the fact that all current projects have committed to disclosing their findings throughout the U.S. shipbuilding industry.

In the past, shipbuilders were reluctant to share prized R&D research with their competitors. But as many worked to become competitive in world markets in the face of declining Navy business, the shipbuilders saw the opportunity for all to gain from shared research. And the Navy saw the opportunity to gain more ships for less money. "We are an investment, not an expense," Walpert said. "For every $1 in government spending, the Navy gains $2 in research."

Mike Toner, president of Electric Boat and a former chairman of the NSRP Executive Control Board, said this new approach to research focuses the research dollar and eliminates redundancies. "The amount of money from the government is fixed," Toner said. "It is up to us to find out how to give the Navy more for its dollar. At Electric Boat we think this (funding NSRP) is the right way to go."

Toner described how his plant is benefiting from the sharing of NSRP funded research. He discussed laser-cutting technology, which Electric Boat personnel recently saw demonstrated at Bender. Toner said Electric Boat is examining how to use this technology in building submarines.

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