Shipbuilding: Naval Cuts Could Cost U.S. Its Ship Construction Capabilities
What’s it gonna take?
That’s the question posed to Congress by the American Shipbuilding Association.
The Washington, D.C.-based industry group, which has been fighting for increased Navy shipbuilding the last few years, wants some answers and wants them now.
The association’s latest appeal appears in the form of a full-page advertisement in Roll Call, the newspaper for Capitol Hill.
The ad, which will run once a month for the next eight months, focuses on the state of U.S. naval forces and how the military can’t function without strong sea power.
The organization is spending $60,000 on the ads , a small price to pay for the potential loss of American shipyards, said Cynthia Brown, the association’s president.
“The Navy, the fleet commanders and the Defense Department have all been on record for the last couple of years as saying that the country could not allow the fleet to fall below 305 ships,” Brown said. “We’re at 316 ships now.”
She pointed out the U.S. must build 10 ships a year to maintain at least a 300-ship Navy. The Navy has budgeted no more than six ships a year over the past seven years. It would cost about $48 billion to make up for the current ship deficit, Brown said.
Congress Is Listening
“If you increase the build rate to 12 ships a year, it would take 16 years to wipe out the deficit. This is just such a huge problem that it builds on itself. It’s going to get worse.”
After years of complaints about the shipbuilding crisis, Brown hopes Congress is finally listening.
After all, the life of the nation’s remaining six shipbuilders depends on it, she said.
“When the country only has six shipbuilders left, if we only build six ships a year, not all these shipyards will be sustained.”
Brown said Navy leaders are beginning to speak out on the military’s need for more ships.
“They have constraints on them because they want to keep their jobs,” she said. “But what’s happened is they have come forward to say that they can’t make it with even 300 ships. That means this problem is much worse than what we are even advertising it to be.”
Brown said educating political leaders and U.S. citizens about the country’s shipbuilding crisis is critical.
“Congress and the country respond to crisis. Until they know it’s a crisis, they’re not going to respond.”
Town Hall Meetings
The shipbuilding association holds forums each year in Washington highlighting the state of America’s sea power.
To help win the support of the public and retired military personnel, the organization, last year, launched the Sea Powers Ambassadors Program, a collection of town hall-style meetings held across the country, including in San Diego.
The number of U.S. shipbuilders has sunk over the last decade, mostly due to decreased military spending.
The West Coast, for example, used to be home to about a dozen shipbuilders. Now there is only one , National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. in San Diego.
NASSCO, which has been awarded $2.1 billion worth of contracts from the Navy since 1993 for the construction of sealift ships, is currently involved in a contract design competition for the TADCX, the Navy’s next generation of replenishment ships.
The value of the 12-ship contract is worth about $3 billion. If chosen as the prime contractor, NASSCO would share the work with other shipyards. Final bids for the contract will be submitted in June, with a contract awarded in September.
NASSCO is competing against New Orleans-based Litton Avondale Industries and Halter Marine in Mississippi.
NASSCO, owned by General Dynamics, has also been going after commercial contracts for cargo ships, cruise ships and oil tankers. Last December, the shipyard scored its first commercial contract in 10 years.
The $300 million contract from Seattle-based Totem Ocean Trailer Express, Inc. (TOTE), calls for NASSCO to build two commercial roll-on, roll-off ships that will carry up to 600 cargo trailers and 200 autos for TOTE’s cargo service between Tacoma, Wash., and Anchorage, Alaska.
Jim Scott, NASSCO’s vice president of marketing, said competition may increase for these types of commercial contracts as dollars for Navy shipbuilding shrink.
“It does indirectly affect us as other shipbuilders may try to enter our markets,” he said.
While NASSCO will have work over the next few years, Scott said it’s difficult to plan for a long-term future.
“We have a very definite vision of what our market opportunities are over the next five years. That’s as long as our horizon can be.”
Scott credited local political representatives with helping to keep the shipbuilding industry afloat.
“Our politicians were very effective last year in the budget process,” he said. “They all worked very hard to see the sealift and the TADCX was included in the five-year shipbuilding program.”
Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Escondido, is one of those politicians Scott is talking about.
Cunningham has promised to continue to push his colleagues to support a stronger national shipbuilding budget. Cunningham and other members of Congress are asking for $50 million in the fiscal 2001 budget for Title XI Ship Loan Guarantee Program.
Title XI provides a government guarantee of a commercial loan for the construction of commercial ships in U.S. shipyards for domestic and export customers.
The purpose of the program is to assist private companies in securing commercial bank loans to finance construction of ships in the United States.
“It’s never-ending, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Cunningham said about boosting the country’s shipbuilding budget.
“I’m optimistic my colleagues will support this. With their support we will be able to have a much better chance to improve our economy.”