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Fix, Repair or Improve Navy Shipbuilding?

February 13, 2009
By Henry Kenyon
Fixing Navy shipbuilding was the focus of a panel featuring (l-r) Ronald O'Rourke; Rear Adm. Michael K. Mahon, USN; Fred J. Harris; Vice Adm. Kevin J. Cosgriff, USN (Ret.); and panel moderator Dr. Scott C. Truver.

Change may be good for progress, but it is not good for Navy shipbuilding. A panel of experts addressing how to "fix" Navy shipbuilding agreed that design changes in the process are responsible for most of the ills in Navy shipbuilding. However, they disagreed on many proposed solutions-and whether oft-stated ideas would even work in reality.

Many of the experts did agree on the need for discipline in the design and requirements process. They also want programs to be flexible enough to incorporate new emerging technologies. Yet they could not specify how to produce the best of both worlds.

A totally new perspective was offered by Fred J. Harris, president of General Dynamics NASSCO. Harris described how Korean shipbuilders do not release design drawings until the entire ship design process is completed. When his company built a ship in a Korean shipyard, its processes delivered a ship several months early and 20 percent under budget. Harris said that U.S. shipbuilders do not do enough production design, and he called for early requirements definition and collaboration between government and contractors.

Ronald O'Rourke, specialist in national defense with the Congressional Research Service, said that he believes several approaches may improve shipbuilding. These range from re-assessing the role of analysis over emotion to moving to common hulls and parts for economies of scale. O'Rourke also suggested enabling competition for construction, but Harris did not endorse that concept.

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