POGO is doing some interesting work on keeping shipyards accountable. The indefatigable Jason Paladino has a pretty good explainer up, talking about the Shipyard Act–identifying concerning issues like the “no-strings-attached” aspects of the $25 billion shipyard supplement, the apparent “quid-pro-quo” on the lobbying/campaign donation side of the shipyard business, as well as questioning the private shipyard subsidy when many of the shipyards/conglomerates are doing quite well financially right now.

All good things to discuss. Here’s the link.

Jason primarily relied on my prior shipyard work in Forbes (here and here), but he did add a quote that, in regards to the public shipyards, “I don’t want to wake up five years from now and find the shipyards have wonderful golf courses on them.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek quip, but it’s true. If, in five years from now, the Public Shipyard repair effort is over-budget and behind schedule, we’re going to see an enormous push to privatize nuclear warship maintenance. And, with the wrong sort of supervision in place, the Navy Yards could make some really foolish investments.

As I wrote in Forbes last week (link here), with the public shipyards, the Navy must now execute. Our Navy folks do wonderfully on the “vision” thing, but execution is where the Navy, time and time again, has fallen short. Yes, it’s a great success to get $21 billion dollars into the shipyards, but if those billions are followed by a drumbeat of failure–bad cost estimates and one missed milestone after another, then nobody in Congress will want to give money to the public shipyards ever again. And then we’ll be stuck sending ships to the private shipyards, and…well, let’s just say that I’d be buying Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics stock like there was no tomorrow.

Right now, the big SIOP is behind schedule and over budget. Everybody in Congress knows that $21 billion is insufficient. But since too few folks in Congress are doing anything about it–arguing that the expediency of the moment trumps accuracy and internal controls–I’m glad to see in testimony this week that the Navy is being up front about PMS-555’s crappy ROM estimates and that some legislators are getting real about the power-hungry Program Office’s poor performance in executing their vision (PMS-555 did a great job catching the bus, but eating it is proving to be a bit more than the Program Office can handle).

The more the Navy can socialize the fact that the initial estimates for shipyard work was a ROM, the better, and the more it can maneuver to underpromise and then overdeliver on programmatic milestones the better. It’s all about credibility and execution now. Either that, or in about ten years the public yards will be unsalvageable and HII and GD will be doing all the Navy’s nuclear and undersea maintenance.

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Here’s the link.

So the Freedom Class’ combining gear fiasco–which smart people saw coming waaaay back when LCS-1’s combining gear was first delayed–is moving ahead, with the Navy expecting Lockheed Martin to deliver a tested fix by “early” FY 2022. Good luck.

As a pessimist, I suspect this announcement was too aggressive, when the Navy would be smarter to underpromise and overdeliver. RENK is still tinkering, and I doubt they’re doing anything more than pursing a science project over there. We’ll see if the hypothesis holds up–but timing this so that on-the-water tests will likely be rushed to beat the Great Lakes freeze doesn’t exactly fill me with optimism.

Look to see the schedule slip, and the Freedom Class saddled with enormously restrictive operating restrictions. Ask the Navy to describe the configurations, speeds, switchover requirements and endurance under each general operational configuration going forward.

In general, the Freedom Class only lives to the Constellation Class can survive. It’s just a jobs program now as these ships are going to leave service very quickly–with the Navy retiring one Freedom and asking to retire three, the Freedom Class fleet is already being pushed to the point where the operational and sustainment costs will be ridiculously high.

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In Marine News Magazine: Column the Maritime Commerce Cutter RFP

June 7, 2021

Link is here and here. My first column with the Marine News constellation of trade magazines! The Maritime Commerce Cutter fleet is due for an upgrade–and the entire class will be the Coast Guard’s primary inland representative as America’s waterways undergo both an economic renaissance and enormous technical change. These boats are unglamorous, and, while […]

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In Forbes: Time To Bring USCG Funding To The Floor

May 27, 2021

Here’s the link. Yesterday, Roger Wicker introduced a big Coast Guard funding bill. That’s great news, but the legislation itself is largely a bundle of other much-needed Coast Guard funding proposals that, after getting introduced years ago, never saw the light of day. It’ll join a raft of other USCG funding proposals that are working […]

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In Forbes: Urging Better Funding for U.S. Deep Sea Fishing Enforcement

May 24, 2021

Here’s the link. The emergence of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing as an “issue” in the Trump Administration is a tale that needs telling. It was, on the part of many folks, an act of bureaucratic legerdemain–The issue couldn’t get too big too fast, or it would have been targeted and killed as a risk […]

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Can’t Have Too Little Coast Guard

May 23, 2021

President Biden spoke to Coast Guard Academy graduates last week, charting out an organizational future that everybody kind of already knows–that the Coast Guard is bound for bigger things. That’s all great news, but there seems to be no money coming behind it. And that’s a problem. The Coast Guard faces cost challenges everywhere. It’s […]

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DDG-51 Cut: Not The End, But Maybe The Beginning Of The End?

May 22, 2021

I discussed the “surprising” DDG-51 cut in the Portland Times Herald last week, and, while I get the frustration about how the Congress and the Navy seem to treat “multi-year” and “block” buys as more piggy-banks than real obligations, I think you’re stupid if you don’t believe the DDG-51 is going to end sometime in […]

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In Press: Discussing BIW’s Production Delay

August 31, 2020

I had the opportunity to exchange a few emails with the Times Record’s indefatigable BIW scribe, Kathleen O’Brien, last week on a story “Strike, Pandemic Further Delay Production at Bath Shipyard”. In light of the strike and COVID-19, Bath is more than a year behind schedule. The locals, of course, are concerned about the implications of the delay.

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What Does A $362 Million Hospital Ship Look Like?

August 1, 2020

My hospital ship piece in Forbes.com last week has led to quite a bit of discussion on my suggestion that, at the $362 million price point, the NSMV would be a good hull for a dedicated medical vessel. For a piece that didn’t get a lot of eyeballs/clicks at Forbes, it certainly has sparked a […]

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VT Halter Seeks Pricing/Estimating Help

July 28, 2020

So, a few weeks after detailing my concerns that VT Halter’s impressive book of business might have been caught by over-aggressive pricing over at Forbes.com, the new VT Halter President/CEO Bob Merchent is seeking a Senior Vice President of Contracts and Pricing. I like VT Halter–it’s a scrappy and hungry yard, but it has a […]

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