JUST IN: Navy Must Look to Allies to Match China’s Shipbuilding Speed
Navy photo by MC3 Nathan Burke
To match the breakneck speed of China’s shipbuilding programs, the Navy will need to work more closely with allied nations to leverage some of their ship designs and reduce risk, said one service official Feb. 10.
If “you look at China and how they are manufacturing ships and the rate of manufacturing ships, we're going to have a hard time … to keep up at a pace,” said Tom Rivers, executive director for amphibious, auxiliary and sealift programs at Naval Sea System Command’s program executive office for ships.
Military officials have for years been sounding the alarm about China’s naval buildup, with the People’s Liberation Army Navy building a formidable fleet.
To combat China’s growth, the Navy must do a better job of leveraging the ship designs of allied nations and bringing them to the United States to be domestically produced, Rivers said during the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference, which was held virtually.
“We need to look at some of the same type of ships that may be in common and see what we can leverage for speed purposes and for interoperability,” he said.
While Rivers said he didn't have any particular foreign vessel in mind, there are good designs around the globe that the Navy could potentially leverage.
“What I'm interested in doing is as we go forward with different programs, is seeing what is out there that we can leverage to reduce our risk in initial production,” he said. “I think we would definitely be … doing all the manufacturing domestically, and then we also obviously have requirements to Buy American, buy a lot of parts domestically.”
But “to have a design that can reduce our risk and the shipyard’s risk — I'm all for that,” he said.
One example of where the Navy has already done this is with the FFG-62 Constellation-class ship that is based on a design from Italy, Rivers said. In 2020 the service awarded the contract for the program to a team led by Fincantieri and Marinette Marine.
Rivers noted that he is interested in working with a number of allies, particularly in Europe and Japan. European nations, in particular, have unique ship designs, he added.
Meanwhile, a war with China would require the Navy to build up its fleet at a faster pace, Rivers said.
“The focus — when you look at potential fight with China — is kind of schedule driven,” he said. “How do we get the resources aligned to build the ships we need at the fastest pace possible?”
The Navy needs industry’s feedback to understand how shipyards can move faster and reduce production timelines, he said.
“Do our shipyards become more integrators of products than they are today? I don't know. That's why I'm … seeking your inputs,” he said. “I think schedule is the key item for us to be able to put the product we need out to the sailors [and] the Marines. … Anything you can do to help us get that under control — how we see the supply systems, how we feed the shipyards, how we build the ships, how do we get them to the fleet earlier and put that new technology in — is kind of key.”
Often because of the Navy’s build cycles, new technology can sometimes become obsolete quickly and needs to be refreshed, he said.
“How do we design our ships smartly to take that technology and insert it at the last minute so that we're delivering a great product to our sailors and Marines?” he said.