NavWeek: Happy Hunting


It’s out with the old and in with the new – even if the new is still a bit uncertain – for Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), the nation’s biggest U.S. Navy shipbuilder.

Everyone in maritime circles is more than a bit familiar with HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, which builds and maintains the nation’s carriers and partners on submarine programs. And Mississippi’s Ingalls Shipbuilding of another stalwart, known for destroyers, amphibious ships and Coast Guard cutters at its yard in Pascagoula.

Both of those yards are going strong and there’s every indication to think they will continue to do so for some years.

That’s not the case for the Ingalls Shipbuilding's Gulfport Composite Center of Excellence in Gulfport, Miss. or the Avondale Shipyard in Avondale, La.

The Gulfport center, the company says, “is very unique to the shipbuilding business. The 120-acre site specializes in composite shipbuilding supporting U.S. Navy programs. Gulfport has the demonstrated capability to construct marine composite structures ranging from small combatant craft (200 ft.) to lightweight aerospace structures. Supporting the construction capability is a highly trained and capable workforce of nearly 500.”

Gulfport has been building composite masts for the LPD-17 amphibious ship program since 2001. The after mast system is a detachable, octagonal structure 93 ft. high and 35 ft. in diameter constructed of a multilayer, frequency-selective material designed to allow passage of specific radio frequencies while effectively reflecting others.

The facility also is the sole provider of the composite deckhouses and hangars for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers. “The next generation of marine composite technology, these carbon fiber composite structures provide incredible strength and operational capability for the nation's next generation of surface warships,” the company says.

But the Navy needs to save money and has opted to go with a steel deckhouse for the DDG-1002 destroyer, ending the production line at the center.

“Regarding the DDG-1001, we remain on track to deliver the deck house from our Gulfport facility in the second quarter,” HII CEO Michael Petters told investment analysts in a quarterly results conference call May 8. “Following completion of this work and the composite mast for LPD-27, we will proceed with the shutdown of the Gulfport facility.”

A similar fate may await Avondale. The shipyard, the company says, “has a rich and colorful 70-year-old history in Jefferson Parish and remains a legendary and prodigious presence in the world of shipbuilding today. The company was founded as Avondale Marine Ways in 1938 at the site of an abandoned railroad ferry crossing no longer in use as a result of the construction of the Huey P. Long Railroad Bridge across the Mississippi River. This original location on the west bank of Jefferson Parish remains the present site of the 268-acre shipyard, about 10 miles upriver from downtown New Orleans. Today, Avondale is the largest private manufacturing employer in Louisiana with about 4,800 employees and represents nearly $1 billion of economic impact to the state.”

HII adds, “Throughout more than seven decades of continuous operation Avondale has produced more than 300 ships and vessels.”

But, Petters says, “At Avondale, unit construction for LPD-27 will continue through the third quarter of 2014. As you know, we recently announced the establishment of a joint study group with Kinder Morgan Energy Partners. The study group has been tasked to evaluate best-use opportunities for redeveloping Avondale. If an economically viable best use of the facility is determined, the companies may pursue the formation of a joint venture to redevelop the Avondale site together. However, as I've said before, if we are unsuccessful on these efforts, we will proceed with our plan of record and close the facility.”

But HII holds out hope – not only at Avondale, but for new business altogether. “In our industry today,” Petters says, “you see everybody wrestling with how do we create growth in an environment where the Pentagon is not advertising a lot of growth. Some folks are talking about international, we're not talking about international. Some folks are talking about commercializing and leading; we are cautious about that, but we do believe that there are some things that we can do and some customers that we can engage with that would enhance the value of this business. And so we're going to keep our eyes open for that moving forward.”

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on May 21, 2014

This facility would be ideal for the production of new composite combatants that are small, fast, and choked with weapons like the old torpedo boats or the PHMs. A large LPD sized ship would be the platform for the transport and logistics/maintenance/operations support facility for this flotilla of littoral combat support vessels. Now THERE is an IDEA whose time has come. This would provide versatility, viability, and capability for littoral combat operations over a larger area than an LCS can provide, for a fraction of the cost of the LCS program. I bet the Marines would like to see these around during a landing.

on May 25, 2014

Why are you landing Marines in a clump?

You are facing two and potentially three nuclear threatfors in the next decade for which an amphibious anchorage of any sort is both an invitation to escalate and a sure and certain loss of sovereignty as death (hello hung Saddam!) if they allow it to happen, uncontested.

So why bring a bunch of 19-20 knot gator freighters as overblown containerships, inshore?

Land composite RAPs as battlegroups capable of independent ops and let them seize the SPOD or APOD the same way Tobruk was, from the backside. Before motoring in to some high throughput docksides.

The view seems to be a variation of 'it takes a thief' (because nobody minds when 20-50 people go missing from a FAC-M) but the reality here is that speed boat on speed boat deflects but doesn't end the threat as things like Mines and AShM make it possible for a 'bigger class of boghammar' to simply detach PCIs to screen away the intercept while turning 40 knots stern on for two minutes before coming back to base course enroute to the naval group which is either escorting or anchored and thus all but helpless to a quad of CS-704 or the like.

It's one of those things where you look at the Israeli Wars and even further back to the E-Boote vs. MGB debate and _what do you see_? The Germans could come and go, more or less as they pleased, throughout the tramway of East Coast naval traffic, all the from Scotland down to around Cornwall and Land's End and nobody could stop them, as late as 1944.

Sure, missiles can make a difference, especially if one side has a helo to do the ASST for silent-shot deflections. But this all depends on the combat being accepted rather than desultory as a swarm attack may start out very loose and conjoin only in the target terminal area, if at all.

We need a cogent, coherent, naval strategy that begins with: "Worst case, do we want to intervene and if so, how fast?" (China vs. India, PakIndi, Iran, Korea, Taiwan Straits, Senkokus, Korea). The Air Sea Battle doctrine from the Pac Piv condition is just a game plan looking for a game.

Without informed political consent, we are building hollow force structure and hoping we will have the force mix to fill out with weapons systems 'whatever happens'. When the obvious answer is that 'whatever happens' will develop far more quickly than most naval assets can respond and be conducted at a technology level far beyond the redneck hillbilly threats we've faced in the last decade.

Indeed, for the top tier 'Near Peer' it comes out being more like 'everywhere at once' as -prevention- of our own attempts to mass in-theater with a viable, survivable, naval force. This is what the Chinese 'no boundaries' operational theory _strongly_ implies.

As such, my very first question has to be: "Why dance with the devil if you can snipe him from Deep Blue Sea conditions?"

Putting Marines ashore reeks of Task Force Smith. Putting SSC/MPB into a fight whose outcome is one of uncertain need as much as decision smells of Nasty Boats 'imported' to look like Vietnamese P-4s on radar. Only P-4s had a hard time clearing 40 knots and these little beggars skipped away at 55+.

We need a better game plan than sticking America's collective nose in someone else' doorway and daring them to slam it in the jam.

American's are tired of being coerced into other people's wars to meet the need of keeping a massive Cold War navy relevant.

Here is where doctrine and technology cross swords with strategy as diplomatic policy. Because even as a Jutland era torpedo boat destroyer needed only enough speed to put its 3" or 4" guns into play on very poor seakeeping German MTBs, not an exact performance match, so too does the idea of a highly capable stealth platform with a lot of missiles and a mix of organic and offboard, network, targeting systems seem a much better way to operate off a hostile shore in a bathtub effect of constrained maneuver (Hormuz or Black Ditch) while letting weapons reach out and do the touching as Mach 5+ class LRASM-B.

I like VTOL jet UCAVs for this. I like sensor buoys feeding CAPTOR type mines with clustered AShM. I _do not_ like the automatic assumption that the U.S. is going to whip it out and show it off with something as conventional as the threat of an old school, inshore, Inchon 'event'.

If ashore we must go to interdict threat fires, then let it be with STOM ops, deep behind the beach, dropping into the weeds with independent combat teams that can fire missiles (SPIKE NLOS or Jumper or better) /back/ at the ICD, as they find them. Or secure a fallen-state nuclear depot. Or provide targeting as much as fires for logistics interdiction of another Korean Peninsular war.

But don't /just assume/ that we have to go 'full contested' into the enemy's green/white water ICD environment when we will be visible to everyone and their sister.

These aren't Taliban, ya know?

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