Shipyard Chief: Navy Should 'Manage Appetite For Change' in Ship Design (UPDATED)
Though it has a significantly smaller budget than the Navy, the Coast Guard has recognized the effectiveness of its national security cutters in a number of roles.
The service has therefore done little to alter the NSC’s design from ship to ship, allowing Ingalls to build them with increasing efficiency and for less money, company president Irwin Edenzon said Jan. 15 at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium in Arlington, Va.
“Change is the enemy of low cost,” Edenzon said. “The Coast Guard has done an outstanding job of managing its appetite for change. So we have been able to get learning from ship to ship. Each of these ships is performing better than the previous ship.”
The Navy also could benefit by finding multiple uses for a single, proven ship design, he said.
Instead of buying single-role ships for various missions, the Navy can realize similar savings by building multiple variants on a single hull design, he said. Edenzon proposed the LPD-17 class amphibious assault ship as an example of where one hull can perform a variety of missions.
“Our feeling is that maintaining the basic design has advantages in that it reduces the risk associated with a new-design ship. It provides the opportunity for commonality because … the spare parts requirements, training requirements and the long-term sustainability of the supply chain to provide support to a common hull makes a lot of sense."
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos has praised the LPD as one of the sea services’ most effective ships, going so far as to call it the Swiss Army knife of surface combatants.
“We believe this theme … of commonality has merit," Edenzon said. “Sustaining a supply chain over multiple classes of ships, being able to offer training that is applicable cross-hull, has advantages in a difficult budget environment.”
Though LPD-17 production is now moving smoothly, Endenzon acknowledged the program has “been a journey” to this point.
“The investment that both the company and the Navy made has certainly started now to pay dividends,” he said. “We’re delivering great ships now. We’ve learned how to do it.”
LPD hulls 26 and 27 are under construction and there is a place-marker in the Navy’s shipbuilding budget for hull 28, he said. Because shipbuilding is a long-cycle business — it takes a lot of time to develop requirements and to build ships — it is necessary to minimize the periods between the laying of hulls in order to maintain a competent workforce and to minimize cost, Edenzon said.
For many missions, the Navy and Coast Guard should “apply well-proven designs that are already proving themselves in the fleet,” he said. “We believe that the LPD has proven its mettle. We believe it has the ability to do other things.”
Other than amphibious assault and humanitarian relief — the LPD’s primary missions — the ship can be configured to carry out missile defense duties. It could also satisfy the Navy’s anticipated LX(R) requirement, which is envisioned as a big-deck amphibious ship based largely on commercially available designs and building practices that will save the service money.
“There are things that we can do when we take a look at the requirements for an LX(R) replacement versus an LPD requirement. There are things we can do to the LPD design that do not require significant amounts of non-recurring engineering, schedule and risk,” Edenzon said.
The Coast Guard’s national security cutter design has a variety of potential applications, including that service’s offshore patrol cutter or as a future Navy frigate. There is no official requirement for the latter, but Edenzon said rumors were swirling that the Navy might be in the market.
Ingalls christened in 2013 the fourth NSC to the Coast Guard and holds the contract for the fifth and sixth ships in the class. Long-lead time money for material for NSC-7 has been allocated, but the ship is not yet fully funded, he said.
“As the Navy contemplates what it might be doing in the future about a frigate-type ship, we believe the track record of this ship in the Coast Guard fleet and our ability to improve performance from hull to hull is something we hope is of interest to the Navy as they start contemplating where they want to go for the next surface combatant.”
Ingalls also holds the contract for the Navy’s LHA assault ships, which are small aircraft carriers that can accommodate helicopters and short-takeoff, vertical-landing aircraft like the AV-8B Harrier and the V-22 Osprey that flies like an airplane takes off and lands like a helicopter. LHA-6, the USS America will undergo acceptance trials later this year. It is an aviation-only ship, meaning that is has no well deck to house Marine Corps amphibious vehicles. It also does not include the deck modifications necessary to accommodate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Navy will have to address necessary design issues once the ship is in the fleet, Edenzon said. He would not comment on what the retrofits will cost.
Ingalls is under contract to build the follow-on LHA-7, which will have the same configuration but will include some F-35 specific modifications. The third ship in the America Class, LHA-8, will reincorporate a well deck for launching amphibious vehicles and will be the first ship in the class built with JSF in mind from the start, he said.
The company also gained a leg up in 2013 when it won a contract to build five of the remaining nine ships of the DDG-51 class destroyers. But Ingalls’ future is a mixed bag. It has all but closed its facility in Avondale, La., where the LPD-25 was built. When that ship sails away from the yard in February, the facility will be vacated and the remaining 450 employees laid off.
When work is completed later this year on the DDG 1001 deckhouse, the company plans to close its Gulfport, Miss., yard. Most of that facility’s 500 employees will transition to the Pascagoula shipyard, Edenzon said.
Still, given the contracts for DDG-51 construction, among others, the company plans to add an additional 2,500 employees to its 12,000-strong workforce by the end of 2014, he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect photo.