141114-N-EW716-003If the Trump Administration is going to build a 350-ship Navy, then Bath Ironworks will have a big role. I had a chance to talk with the Times Record’s Nathan Strout, and offered a few thoughts on the future fleet’s impact upon Bath Ironworks.

There’s some skepticism out there about the 350-ship goal. Let me end that right now–It’s gonna happen. First, the 350-ship target has already been well-socialized throughout DC. I’ve been a part of some of these discussions, and, frankly, I’m pretty OK with the various blueprints that will be released over the coming months–they’re not perfect, but they’re all pretty darn reasonable. And given the demonstrated political will out there and the likely naval leaderships team, well…as far as I am concerned, the numbers argument is done, a hopeless exercise for some bitter-ender deficit-hawks:

“Over the past few months a 350-ship Navy has been something of a consensus target in quiet think-tank discussions throughout DC, so the target is sensible,” said Craig Hooper…”

Now, most of the studies out there take a leisurely, decades-long route to 350. That’s not going to work. The Trump Team made that 350-ship number a central feature–one of very few bogies the Administration made for itself–so, with that in mind, the Trump White House will want their 350-ships sooner rather than later.

350 ships must be in the fleet within four years.

Period.

As I noted in an earlier post, a 350-ship Navy can be completed quickly, allowing the Trump Administration to claim an early success, BUT the ersatz Navy I describe in my post wouldn’t have real sticking power–it’d be largely a symbolic demonstration of political commitment.

The Trump Administration may stop there, but I’d sure sleep better if a rapid, “see what we can do” naval expansion to 350 was coupled with a longer-term plan to build and project a 350-ship Navy over the longer-term. As I said in the article:

“The decades it takes to get to a 350-ship fleet may not be acceptable if the Trump Administration is focused on meeting this goal before the next election,” said Hooper. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty, and the Trump Administration is doing a very good job of keeping their options open. But the outlook for Bath is positive if the Trump Administration resists the temptation to grow the fleet exclusively using bureaucratic chicanery and other short-term fleet-boosting measures. I expect the Trump Administration to rely on a healthy mix of long-term and short-term solutions to grow the fleet.”

Now, Steve Forbes (the consensus candidate for SECNAV) is savvy enough to manage both objectives as the Navy chief. If Forbes is allowed to look to the longer-term–and build a larger Navy for the future-then Bath Ironworks is in pretty good shape for survival. As I discussed here, competing with Ingalls for DDG-51 work won’t be pretty, and Bath may not be hugely profitable, but it won’t go out of business either.

Now, I think it will be critical for shipyards to avoid cost and schedule growth during the first four years of the Trump Administration. I am fairly certain the Trump Administration would relish the political theatre in killing off a defense program or two.

No shipyard wants the become Trump’s poster-child for Pentagon Waste, so, to avoid that fate:

“If the Trump Administration is serious about growing the fleet, starting a deliberate, decades-long expansion, then Bath is going to be in great shape,” said Hooper. “It is critical that the next-generation Flight III Arleigh Burke gets either sped into production or a few additional “restart” destroyers — the ones already in production at Bath–are added while the design is finalized.”

Put off the Flight III DDG-51s. I’d urge Navy stakeholders to try and add on some Flight IIa before jumping into the Flight IIIs. Bath’s getting the dubious honor of building the first Flight III DDG-51. It’s not going to be a fun experience for anybody, and a fracas over design or a delay could really hurt Bath. So add some more Flight IIa “tech inserts” or some FMS deals (cough you know who you are cough cough)–whatever is needed to give Bath time to get up to speed on DDG-Flight III.

Now, there’s some new rumblings about the DDG-1000 over at CNBC, here. Ben Freeman is back, replaying–as I wrote in 2015–his role as DC’s erstwhile DDG-1000 fan. Here’s what Ben’s saying at CNBC:

“My concern is that the Trump administration … would continue to buy the antiquated technology just to get ships in slots to that 350 number,” said Freeman, a long-term proponent of the Zumwalt class.

While the upfront costs of the Zumwalt-class destroyers are higher, Freeman contends there’s a longer-term savings for the Navy going with the next-generation warships over the older Arleigh Burke-class. He insists the lifetime costs of going with newer-class destroyer technology is “at least equal” if not ultimately lower than the older class.

“If you can pay a little money now to get a better ship, then that will be cheaper to operate in the long run and we should do that,” said Freeman. Moreover, he said he expects the Navy will eventually lower the cost of the 155-millimeter projectiles and can increase the use of Zumwalt’s laser electric weaponry.

I can see why Bath could want to keep building DDG-1000–they invested a ton of money into the yard to make Bath THE yard for the DDG-1000 hull-form. It’s the only hull where Bath has a distinct advantage over Ingalls (Ingall’s multi-billion dollar composite DDG-1000 deckhouse is not going to age well!), and if the DDG-1000 production line did survive long enough to get the hull into serial production, Bath would have a real chance at winning the next-gen air-defense cruiser contest.

But I don’t know if Bath can beat the LPD-17 hull-form for that “big surface combatant” mission. LPD-17 took decades to “get ready” for follow-on variants, and I don’t think Bath has time to work the kinks out of the DDG-1000 before the hulls are going to be needed. Depending on what President Trump wants to do, America may not have the luxury of taking decades to refine and fix ambitious technological “leaps”–meaning that Bath will probably need to make it’s peace with DDG-51 business, focusing on winning the “competitions” with Ingalls or working some scheme with the government to have Ingalls “load shed” DDG-51s to Bath as a raft of high-priority amphib and big flat-deck work rolls into HII.

It may be time to build what we have, and bulk up for confrontation.

We’ll see.

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Fred Harris Hangs Up His Hard Hat

by admin on December 1, 2016

Fred Harris, great shipbuilder that he is, is out. His “retirement” was expected–the General Dynamics Corporate Office tends to be intolerant of failure, and Fred had staked his future on the OPC bid that Bath lost.

It’s something of a sad tale. Three years ago, Fred Harris was on top of the world. NASSCO was humming along, and, although the order book could have gotten longer, the yard was secure and Harris had achieved the ultimate expression of shipyard skill–successfully (and profitably) mixing civilian work with military work (I have said it before and I’ll say it again–any yard that can carry the overhead required for government work while turning a profit in commercial work is a yard to be reckoned with!).

I was pretty positive when Fred swept up leadership responsibilities at Bath Ironworks. Brad Graves, from the San Diego Business Journal, lifted this quote from a 2013 post of mine:

In a 2013 post, military blogger Craig Hooper said Harris “has done a wonderful job of making NASSCO a showpiece for the Navy — demonstrating the efficiencies of serial production, seamlessly pivoting between civilian and Navy projects, and keeping production going in a key state not normally known to be manufacturing-friendly.” He also praised Harris for establishing foreign partnerships. NASSCO does extensive work with South Korea-based ship designer Daewoo.

It was a logical promotion. NASSCO was quietly expanding its footprint, stretching beyond the Barrio Logan neighborhood. Fred had the Navy and Congress wired, so the Alaska-Class Tanker variant T-ESBs and T-ESDs were in the pipeline…life was good, and I suppose the Corporate Office wanted to tighten the bonds between their various shipbuilding holdings, so they could, in an Edison Chouest-like/HHI-like move, become a national force–carrying more weight in aggregate than Bath and NASSCO could in their traditional independent, “regional” yard role.

But Bath’s challenges–products of business decisions made long before Fred’s arrival–overtopped Fred. And, well, the idea that NASSCO and Bath could blend was, well, optimistic. NASSCO’s success has been driven by it’s ability to straddle the border, leveraging lower rates and a ready labor supply. Bath was an entirely different animal–proud, prickly, and built around a Unionized workforce in a locale where labor was a premium that, as a result, enjoyed long craftsman-like tenures. There was no way the two cultures would peacefully combine, and it looks like General Dynamics has recognized that fact, offering both yards their own leader.

Now I don’t know what Fred will do (or wants to do) next. I’m sure General Dynamics has done what it can to keep him from competing, but….if Fred doesn’t retire to a nice beach someplace, it sure would be interesting to see Fred go North to help with the Canadian naval buildup, or maybe lashing up with a smaller yard (one of those hungry smaller yards who are eyeing the UAV/UUV revolution) or if he’ll take on a role as a “distinguished elder” as a Board member someplace.

If Forbes wasn’t a lock for SECNAV, I’d even throw his name into the mix for that august post. It won’t happen, but wow would that be fun to watch!!

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How To Build President Trump’s 350-Ship Navy, FAST

November 18, 2016

When a President-Elect repeatedly makes a commitment like “350 ships”, it is my humble sense that, as President, Mr. Trump is going to want 350 ships sooner, rather than later. He’s certainly not going to want them in 2025, or 2030. He’s going to want 350 ships darned quick. And cheaply. Sure, maybe he’ll want […]

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Bath Ironworks: What’s Next?

November 13, 2016

Poor Bath Ironworks. Over the past decade, Bath has endured one heck of a fall from grace–going from a favored ship-production site and world-renowned naval combatant manufacturer to, well, something of a demoralized mess. It’s serious. Wandering around the Navy Yard, I have never heard the Navy semi-publicly vent over a shipyard’s attitude and performance […]

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It’s a Boeing/Northrop Grumman Fight For the MQ-25 Stingray

October 30, 2016

Two things inform the upcoming MQ-25 Stingray opportunity: The first is that Northrop Grumman will be hard to beat, and, second, airframe innovation should take a distant backseat to the work needed to harden and prove-out the electronic “back-end” of carrier-based UAVs. I had a chance to discuss all this with the San Diego Business Journal last […]

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Overlooked in the CNO’s CSIS Speech

October 5, 2016

So the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, gave a speech at CSIS, and everyone is excited about his surprise termination of the term “A2/AD”. That’s all well and good–I have hated the A2/AD debate since the term crawled out from the torrid fever swamps of swarm boats and carrier killers (Read this, for […]

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Rotary Wing Integration With Surface Combatants Is Important!

October 3, 2016

As ubiquitous as maritime helicopters are, America often forgets that the sustained operation of rotary-wing craft off smaller surface combatants only really started in the sixties. Today, it’s easy to scoff that helicopters got their start aboard combatants decades ago, but…for the U.S. Navy, the regular use of helicopters aboard smaller combatants spans only a […]

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Restore Admiral Bulkeley’s Test:

September 30, 2016

The Navy needs to regularly test the ability of ship crews to function at half-strength. It’s been done before: After World War II, Medal of Honor winner and PT Boat hero Rear Admiral John Bulkeley (He’s the tough guy on the right) ran Naval Training Command, where he developed some interesting “real world” manning tests, […]

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In Press: Talking T-ATS(X) With InsideDefense.com

April 14, 2016

As the oil industry races to put modern platform support vessels and anchor handling ships into layup, the eight-ship “tug and salvage” T-ATS(X) program is getting kinda tough to justify. Why build new ships if the Navy can buy suitable hulls for far less? Right now there’s plenty of ships on the market that would make […]

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In Press: Fat Leonard Is Still With Us

April 10, 2016

Though it is now back-page news, the Glenn Defense Marine/Fat Leonard scandal is still with us. Greg Moran, of the San Diego Union Tribune, has been doing a great service, following this case as it winds through the local courts, transforming from a paper-selling “prostitutes and corruption” scandal to less exciting court-reporter fare. But somewhere […]

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