Over at Information Dissemination, there is a very telling post of a Q&A with Mike Petters, President and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries. Cruise on over, it is well worth the read.

Mr. Petters has been a panelist at several shipbuilding sessions at USNI West in the last several years, and always provides an invaluable and informed opinion on our nation’s ability to produce warships. His basic point is that shipbuilding is a “use it or lose it” proposition, a similar message to what he delivered at West 2012 and previous panel sessions. Also of note is his very pertinent assertion that shipbuilding, because of the complexity and long lead time to produce, must be anticipatory and not reactive.

History, as one might expect, bears out Mr. Petters’ assertion. The mighty United States Navy of 1944 and 45 had its origins long before the Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Indeed, ten of the 24 Essex-class CVs had been ordered, and two laid down, prior to 7 December 1941. More than half of the 96 Benson/Gleaves DDs, and a number of the ubiquitous Fletchers, had been laid down by that date as well, as had a number of heavy and light cruisers, on the heels of the New Orleans-class CAs commissioned in the late 1930s. The three Yorktowns were brand new. The battleships North Carolina and Washington were nearing completion. The South Dakotas were laid down, and work was proceeding on all three. In short, when the demands of a two-ocean global war prompted the building of warships, auxiliaries, merchantmen, submarines, oilers, transports, and smaller vessels of all types, the United States had a running start.

Today, with just Huntington-Ingalls and General Dynamics, we are at a dead stop.

Mr. Petters also points to an immutable truth in all manufacturing, large and small; the great advantages of serial production. The interruption, the delay, the reduction of orders below the point of profitability have a cataclysmic effect on retaining a work force in sufficient numbers, and with the requisite long-lead skill sets that shipbuilding demands. Constant fiddling with the 30-year shipbuilding plan is a major problem for shipbuilders, and for their suppliers.

What is called for, he very rightly points out, is a long-range Navy strategy, one that is more than just bullet phrases with a thin and shrinking capability to accomplish even some of what that strategy calls for. From where I sit, I couldn’t agree more. In this year’s West 2012 Conference, I asked two questions of the Naval Officers on the shipbuilding panel. What is the size of the Navy required to execute the new Maritime Strategy? And what is the high-low mix? Both answers were largely the same. “We don’t know”.

For the sake of what is left of our shipbuilding capability, that answer is not acceptable. The security of the United States as a maritime nation depends on it.

As a historical aside, sixty-eight years ago today, preparations were being made for the landing of 130,000 men on a defended shore, from a force of more than a thousand ships, against a determined and skilled enemy. Power projection from the sea in a decisive battle. The landings I mention are those which were to be made on Saipan ten days later, on 15 June 1944.

Simultaneously, on the other side of the world this very night, half a million men were en route across the stormy and rain-swept English Channel, borne in 3,000 ships, to land on the coast of France and crack the walls of Festung Europa. D-Day, the invasion of occupied Europe, was about to begin.

Five years earlier, not one in ten of those ships which carried all those men and supplies, existed. We were, then, the “Arsenal of Democracy”, and our industrial might saved the world from German and Japanese tyranny. If we had to be so again, even on a much smaller scale, Mr. Petters’ question is a good one. “How long would it take?”



Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Air Force, Army, Aviation, History, Marine Corps, Maritime Security, Merchant Marine, Naval Institute, Navy

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  • Paul P

    Problem is the country saw the need and people from industrialists on down stepped up. Now, there doesn’t seem to be an urgency and the focus is on profit rather than anything else.

    Time to get back to a threat based form of construction as opposed to capability based.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Time to get back to a threat based form of construction as opposed to capability based.”

    Care to tell me the practical difference?

    We are doing neither at the moment, but instead are letting budgets dictate everything.

    Yes, private industry does have the annoying habit of trying to make a profit. How un-Comintern of them.

  • Paul


    What I was referring to was looking at what the state of the enemy was and then building a weapon system that could defeat it and any reasonable derivative of that weapon. The development of a high-low end mix of warships during the Cold War is what I was thinking of, or the A-10– designed to survive a modern battlefield in Europe.

    Now, without a clearly defined “enemy” we’re cramming capabilities into hulls that may or may not need it. The LCS has been beat up here quite a bit– why a small littoral ship needs to be stealthy I still am trying to wrap my head around. The JSF has a lot of great features on it, but how much are they really needed to complete the mission? As Gorshkov said once “Perfect is the enemy of good enough…”

    If the intended mission of the LCS is to get in close and be a presence in areas where it’s better to send a smaller ship, wouldn’t something less stealthy, but more heavily armed with “legacy” systems be better? Missile pods are great, but for your average third world threat, doesn’t a 127mm also carry a lot throw and be cheaper? Perhaps a Marine platoon onboard? Focus more on something that can stay on station for a long time and take the punishment of that kind of patrol by being a good seaboat as well.

    As for profit– of course make a profit, but when was the last time a weapons system came in under budget or even on budget? Something that used to burn my father up before he took off and never landed was the WWII modality of “cost plus” construction. He was building P-40’s in Buffalo before ending up in the rear turret of an A-20G and “cost plus” meant that Curtiss-Wright was promised a profit over as a percentage over the cost of the plane. There was no incentive to save the government money as the higher the cost of the plane, the more profit it made. It was a wartime idea to get planes in the air, but it wasted a lot of resources in the process.

    My beef with what’s going on is I read all the time about ships, planes, heck even machine guns promised to do everything asked for and coming up short but the cost passed on to the consumer– the U.S. Military. I want the best for all the services– but I also want what is promised delivered on time and functional.

    I’m not too familiar with the contracting process, but I assume that there’s some kind of penalty built into every contract let go by the military that has consequences if things are not done right. I do that whenever I hire a contractor to work on my house, or my boss does when we need work done. I’m sure the gov’t has better lawyers than I do for that kind of thing.

    You’re absolutely right– we do need a shipbuilding strategy and a plan to guide us for the next 50 years. Problem is our political instability in the sense that every 4 or 8 years there’s a change in leadership, usually with a better “idea” than the previous administration. It’d be nice (and just as likely that I win the lottery) if somehow the message got through to both sides of the political spectrum that the sea, and the need for protection of sea lanes has no political affiliation and is constant year after year.

    Sorry to babble on and on, but it does get frustrating to see our Navy dwindle year after year and ships are being launched in fewer and fewer numbers that cost more and more. It means less ships, less presence and less influence. Even a fool like me can figure out that China doesn’t want to invade the US with a blue water fleet, but it probably does want to influence events in the South China Sea, and with a credible fleet coming soon they will be able to do just that. That new carrier isn’t much of a threat to us, but it is to say, the Philippines, Viet-Nam, or Singapore. That’s why I agree with you– we need a strategy that reflects a long view, not a short one.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Paul, no need to apologize for anything, you make excellent points.

    Some discussion certainly to be had as to who is responsible for cost overruns, particularly with Navy shipbuilding (Mr. Petters has some excellent observations there, too, which were not refuted by his fellow panelists from the Navy), but other than that, you effectively expressed the big problem for systems great and small.

  • Diogenes of NJ

    From Diogenes’ perspective, we needn’t go as far back as WW II; merely to the ’50s and early ‘60s (of course that is not within the living memory of most of you reading this, but I make the point to keep these memories alive).

    The problem is a leadership one; to wit:

    1) The Nuclear Submarine program and
    2) The Polaris program.

    Almost everyone is familiar with Adm. Hyman G. Rickover the “Father of the Nuclear Navy”, fewer remember Adm. William Francis “Red” Raborn, Jr. the “Father of Polaris”; a program that came in three years ahead of schedule.

    Both of these men were renowned for their leadership ability which was attested to by the success of their respective programs. Industrial leadership is also necessary, but in the business of defending our nation, nothing will replace strong military leadership in these necessary programs.

    Now I say: Who is willing to stand up and become known as the “Father of the LCS”? ……………………

    Just as I suspected – fatherless.

    – Kyon

    P.S. I highly recommend that those of you who are up and coming young Naval/Marine Corps Officers and are unfamiliar with the story of Polaris, spend an hour or two on the web – Red Raborn’s accomplishments are easy enough to find.

    P.P.S. Don’t believe a word about PERT. It was a little something that Red and the boys from the Rand Corp. cooked up to keep Congress off of their backs. After the computer picked Kennedy over Nixon, the politicians succumbed to the tyranny of “electronic brains” – not having an abundance of the organic variety on their side. You see, nothing ever changes.

    P.P.P.S. The best thing that could happen to the LCS program is that the spirit of Adm. Thomas Connolly shows up at one of the hearings and reprise his remarks concerning thrust in a LCS context. Does the modern Navy still foster such courage?

  • Hi Diogenes,

    The answer to your get-away question: not if what I’m reading/hearing is to be believed.