The RAND Corporation has been studying naval shipbuilding and related industrial bases in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia for the past two decades. Over that time, we have identified lessons in four strategy areas—people, facilities, enterprises, and scheduling—that, when taken together, can help the shipbuilding industry stay vital and healthy over both the short and long terms. By thinking through and acting upon these lessons, the Navy and U.S. shipbuilders can shape and drive their environment rather than have it defined by Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, or the Office of the Secretary of Defense and potentially lose in efficiency and capability.
Strengthening the Shipbuilding Industry
To prevent atrophy in a fiscally challenged environment, the U.S. Navy and ship manufacturers will need to adopt a set of broad management strategies.The U.S. Navy and the shipbuilding industrial base on which it depends on are approaching a critical juncture. Ongoing budget stalemates in Washington, continuing growth in the cost of new ships, and evolving U.S. national-security priorities are stimulating calls for the Navy to do more with less, change its operational patterns, and build and maintain fewer ships. When faced with similar calls in the past, the Navy and its industry partners have responded with a variety of measures, which have included slashing personnel headcounts, canceling or lengthening programs, decommissioning ships early, or closing facilities. But with today’s severe fiscal environment and evolving security conditions, such traditional responses may no longer work or may give rise to a host of unintended consequences. Unless the Navy and U.S. shipbuilders adopt an integrated set of broad management strategies—ones that will take years to come into full effect and shape the U.S. shipbuilding environment for decades—the United States runs the risk of shortchanging its capabilities to design and produce naval warships for several generations.
By Captain John L. Birkler, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired), John Schank, Mark Arena, Jessie Riposo, and Gordon Lee