Shipbuilding Officials: Innovation Must be Balanced With Program Stability
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — A panel discussion with top Navy and Coast Guard shipbuilding officials demonstrated that while innovation can be an important factor in producing advanced ships, it has to be balanced against the program stability that is important to the industrial base and the cost and time savings provided by working from proven designs.
And there have been ample examples of past attempts to push technology too far that led to major problems, several of the senior officers recalled during the discussion at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition on April 10.
Rear Adm. William J. Galinis, program executive officer ships, cited the DDG 51 as an example of moving ahead from a proven base, noting that the Flight III ships just starting construction are much more capable than the earlier ships, but the advances were easier by working from the established design.
As an example of how innovation may not pay off, Galinis mentioned the DDG 1000, which was started as a leap-ahead capability but at the end of its 20-year development cycle its mission was no longer relevant. The program was cut from more than 20 ships to three and its mission changed from land attack to surface strike.
Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, mentioned the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carriers as another cautionary example, because a lot of new technology was put into the first ship when, in hindsight, “we should have done less.”
Rear Adm. John P. Neagley, program executive office for Littoral Combat Ships and Unmanned Vessels, and Rear Adm. Michael J. Haycock, Coast Guard chief acquisition officer, referred to the new frigate program and the Coast Guard’s proposed heavy icebreaker as projects where the desire to cut delivery time and cost has led to studying existing foreign designs.
The United States has not built either type of ship since the 1970s, while both types are being produced by other countries.
Neagley said three of the five shipbuilders vying to build the new frigates are European and the Navy is considering how those proven designs could be modified to meet U.S. requirements to help meet the goal of awarding a construction contract by 2020.
Haycock said none of the foreign icebreakers meet all the Coast Guard’s requirements, but the service is open to considering the designs.
Allison Stiller, principal civilian deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, joked that she had never heard innovation and shipbuilding spoken in the same sentence. She and others on the panel stressed the value in stability in shipbuilding programs for cost reduction and sending a message to the shipbuilding industrial base, which has been shrinking after a decade of reduced ship construction.
“We understand that stability is absolutely critical” to the shipbuilders and the vulnerable supplier base, which is why they are pushing multi-year contracts and, block buys, Stiller said.