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Huntington Ingalls Awaiting Commitment from Navy Before Ramping Up Workforce

Newport News Shipbuilding placed a 900-ton superlift into dry dock, continuing construction of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CVN 79). Nearly 90 lifts have been placed in the dock and joined together since the ship’s keel was laid in August 2015. Newport News Shipbuilding photo.

Newport News Shipbuilding placed a 900-ton superlift into dry dock, continuing construction of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CVN 79). Nearly 90 lifts have been placed in the dock and joined together since the ship’s keel was laid in August 2015. Newport News Shipbuilding photo.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The Navy and many lawmakers want a massive increase in Navy spending but haven’t yet put forward a plan to start ramping up spending – and one shipbuilding executive said he wouldn’t feel comfortable investing in a larger workforce until certain signs of Navy commitment appear in the budget.

Mike Petters, president and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries, told USNI News last week that his company is already investing $1.5 billion in technologies and processes that can “reset our efficiency and our competitiveness,” but to support a ramp-up to 355 ships his yard would need to expand its workforce. And he’s not ready to do that just yet.

“There’s a lot of things that have to happen if we decide we’re going to invest against that. Some of it is, you’ve got to get rid of sequestration. You’ve got to get to some kind of normal order on the Hill,” he said.
“But you can do some programmatic things that make sense right now: you could change the way you buy aircraft carriers. When we built up the last time we bought them two at a time, so let’s buy them two at a time again. You wouldn’t see that for a decade or so, but the point is making those decisions now would then create the confidence to go invest in that ramp-up.

HII's Mike Petters during West 2016. US Naval Institute Photo

HII’s Mike Petters during West 2016. US Naval Institute Photo

“To get to the numbers they’re talking about, I think you’ve got to build stuff you’re already building. You expand the rate of production for submarines and destroyers, and I think you can do that, and if you make the decision to do that in the next multiyear procurements that happen, that will create the investment profile that you need,” he continued.
“And then I think around amphibs and auxiliaries, you can make commitments – like in the amphib case, you can accelerate the LX(R) to take advantage of the production line that’s there. For auxiliaries you’ve got production lines that are mature, let’s take advantage of those production lines. And if you do those things, you can efficiently, actually, build up the size of the fleet.”

HII is well situated to support the early stages of a fleet expansion, given the company’s role in the three main ship classes being targeted for early production rate increases: HII is the sole builder of amphibious warships today at its Ingalls Shipbuilding yard, Ingalls is one of two yards building Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and its Newport News Shipbuilding yard works alongside General Dynamics’ Electric Boat shipyard to co-produce Virginia-class attack submarines.

Petters said he was confident the two yards had the physical space to accommodate higher paces of production for these three classes, or to take on new work.

“The issue is not about footprint, the issue is about workforce,” he said.
“We can go and get the tooling and the work site, the job site, we can do all that a whole lot faster than the government can actually appropriate the funds to go do that, or make decisions to go do that. The question is, can you create the workforce fast enough? And we’re actually pretty good at that, but it’s not something you just start late; you’ve got to start early on that. So that’s kind of the way we think about it, as we start to see some of these programmatic decisions being made, then you go and start creating the workforce to go make it happen, which adds to the efficiency and makes it cheaper.”

The Virginia-class submarine Minnesota (SSN-783) is "pressure hull complete," signifying that all of the submarine's hull sections have been joined to form a single, watertight unit. Newport News Shipbuilding photo.

The Virginia-class submarine Minnesota (SSN-783) is “pressure hull complete,” signifying that all of the submarine’s hull sections have been joined to form a single, watertight unit. Newport News Shipbuilding photo.

The Navy is still awaiting a supplemental budget to add funding to the current fiscal year – potentially as much as $40 billion across the Defense Department – but much of that is likely to support maintenance, modernization and operations for current platforms. But the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, expected to be sent from the White House to Congress in early May, could contain some of the signs that Petters said might spur some hiring at his yards.

“The two-ship buys for carriers, increasing volumes of submarines and destroyers, accelerating the amphibs: those things are in the realm of the possible right now, and those would be very overt, direct signals that would be, not just to our level of the industry, but it would also start to give us the latitude to go and start incentivizing our supply chain to keep up and provide the stuff we need from them,” he said.

As for the investments already being made, Petters said “we’re investing into the [Ohio Replacement Program, or Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine] program. We’re investing into the things we learned as we went through the construction of the Ford (aircraft carrier), we’re making some investments in those areas that are going to drive cost out of the Ford (class). And a billion and a half dollars kind of runs the whole gamut.”

The Ingalls-built destroyer Paul Ignatius (DDG 117) launched at first light Saturday morning, Nov. 12, 2016. Ingalls Shipbuilding photo.

The Ingalls-built destroyer Paul Ignatius (DDG 117) launched at first light Saturday morning, Nov. 12, 2016. Ingalls Shipbuilding photo.

Among the technologies being leveraged is a “smart shipyard” idea that would connect employees all around the yard via wireless internet and tablets, and allow them to do their work based on 3D “digital blueprints” instead of traditional 2D drawings. Since Petters announced last February that the third Ford-class carrier, the future Enterprise (CVN-80), would be the first paperless ship, and Newport News Shipbuilding president Matt Mulherin last May described his dream for a digital shipyard, Petters said the company has been hard at work testing out their ideas.

“We keep running pilots and demonstrators to the workforce, saying, this is how this could work and give us some feedback as to whether that makes sense or not,” Petters said.
“It’s all been very very positive for us, and we’re continuing to be excited about the future.”

This type of digital work environment could generate 15-percent cost savings on Enterprise, Mulherin said last year.

  • Samuel Clemens

    A country’s citizens have to suffer so these military-industrial profiteers can grow ever richer to serve no discernible purpose other than fulfilling the false claims of a wasteful ideological agenda. So sad. We will not be safer, far from it, we will be far more at risk of irrational death and destruction.

    • Duane

      Then why is it we only get attacked when we’re weak, as in December 1941, or not paying attention as in 2001 … but the bad guys leave us alone when we’re strong and paying attention.

      You know, there’s a principle in there for people who aren’t ideologically blinded, like you. It’s called “human nature” and “common sense”.

      • Samuel Clemens

        On Sept 11th, 2001 the US outspent the next 10 countries combined. We got attacked.

        What you call “common sense” is rank militarism that ultimately dooms all who fall into its grasp. Open your eyes and see the world the way it is without seeking false safety in all the wrong places. The side of human nature you seek is really self destruction.

        The military is already bloated beyond all defensive purpose. It has admitted over $100 in annual waste. Think what we could do with college education or helping the poor if we had the compassion to use it properly. As Eisenhower warned, remembering that he was a man who knew a thing or two about running a war and the Presidency, defense becomes militarism when defense needs get left behind in favor of starting wars. BTW, he also explicitly warned about the immorality of taking money from the poor for weapons that are not really needed. An unchecked military-industrial complex corrupts the political process and ultimately the heart of the country as it does in every country where raw militarism raises its ugly head. As a nation we once stood against Germany in WWI and WWII on those very grounds. There is no need for this blindly increased spending for the sake of throwing money to solve problems that don’t exist. It is all about ego and political exaggeration on one hand, and big bucks on the other hand leading to devastation and harm to the country on many, many levels.

        Finally think about the wisdom of Forest Gump. Bad guys are as bad guys behave. Ever single opposing group thinks the other guy is the “bad guys” basically in order to dehumanize them and forgive their own travesties. We behaved badly starting an unnecessary war of aggression lying to ourselves against that Iraq that still reverberates to this day. The first boot that crossed the line from Kuwait was the bad guy invading. We are not immune. We lied to ourselves that couldn’t happen and then we did what the Wehrmacht did into Poland. Time to take stock. We should be much better than that.

        • Patrick Bechet

          The poor have (in FY 2016) a Social Security program that costs $916 billion, a Medicare health-care program that cost $595 billion, Medicaid health-care program that is “guesstimated” to cost $591 billion and other welfare programs “guesstimated” to cost $467 billion. In other words almost two and a half trillion Dollars!! Yet you want the defence budget of under $600 billion to be cut so even more could be spend on the poor?!! “What could we do with that money” you ask? More dependency, more broken families, and still idiot liberals like you who would want even more to be spent, that’s what! Oh, and a military using 40 year old fighters, 60 year old bombers, 40 year old ships while not having adequate spare parts to operate them and military members dying in accidents due to a lack of funds to train adequately. But hey, as long as you can virtue signal and feel good about “helping” the poor who cares what military member dies or about the US being weak and more likely to be attacked!

          • Samuel Clemens

            Education. Health. Environmental clean up. Research and Development. Lower taxes. Infrastructure. How’s that?

            The B-52 still flies because it fits a number of missions as well or better than wasting time rebuilding a platform to do the same thing. Throwing money away for the sake of throwing money away will not make it better.

            Military effectiveness, which seems lost in the urge to splurge, could be increased by taking on the $100+ billion waste found by the Pentagon auditors. Piling on yet more aimless funds simply makes the hole in the ocean wider.

            Lastly if the US military cannot “defend” this country, as opposed to indulging in aggressive warfare, on a budget of 10 times the nearest competitor, it ought to look, long, and hard in the mirror. Furthermore getting people killed for the wrong reasons is not a virtue. Replacing diplomacy with militarism brings catastrophe as we see over and over. Remember what John Kerry said: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

          • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

            “on a budget of 10 times the nearest competitor”……

            10 times?

            Who would that be exactly Sam?

          • Patrick Bechet

            Since most of the defense budget goes to salaries and benefits, are you saying US service members should be paid what the Chinese and Russians pay their troops? That US factory workers making or maintaining weapons for defense contractors should be paid what a Chinese or Russian worker should be paid? At least be honest and say you are, because that is the only way a US budget Dollar can buy as much equipment as the equivalent Russian or Chinese budget’s Dollar equivalent.

            And do you believe the B-52 can fly forever, F-16s can accumulate unlimited flight hours and F/A-18s can land on carriers indefinitely without being replaced? The FACT is that just about every US Army armoured vehicle, AirForce fighter and Navy cruiser was bought in the Reagan years; other than 59 Reagan era KC-10s all tankers date from the Eisenhower and Kennedy years; other than the 20 B-2s every bomber from the Johnson or Reagan years; and, every ICBM from the Nixon years etc. etc. Only in your fetid imagination is that not a problem!

          • Samuel Clemens

            Give me the missions and the threat assessments. What is the strategy? What tactics need to be supported? You think everything Putin has is uptodate? Hardly. The Chines more so obviously. But you think that everything so battle untested will work the first time in anger? You think giant metal floating objects make the most sense under which scenarios? You have given no criteria for what capability needs to be enhanced, reduced or abandoned. I hope we are still not defending against the Spanish fleet. As for bloated military procurement – you have to be kidding. You want to defend THAT?

          • Patrick Bechet

            Serious question- if you don’t know what US strategy is, what tactics are used, that the vast majority of us weapons are battle tested (but that you can’t battle test without battles and that it’s very stupid to start a war just to test weaponry) then why are you on here, let alone commenting? These questions are rhetorical, I can see from the quality of your comments you know very little about anything to do with defense, do us a favour and stick to transgender and abortion rights websites like other liberals.

          • Samuel Clemens

            If you know US strategy under Trump please immediately inform NATO, Japan, Korea, and Australia. If you know the tactics intended to follow from the global strategy as re-oriented by Trump please inform the entire world. Still wondering why not a 169 hull fleet versus a 238 one because their must be something to account for it, or maybe 469 hulls or may just let a bunch of drunker sailors throw darts. You do know what a goals, threat assessment, strategy and tactics means? Because the US Navy has deep challenges in answering those questions for fleet operations. The goals in a system of civilian control depends upon those in power. First principle of any system design: Ignorance of the basic purpose and function of what you intend to achieve is exactly how to build an expensive failure of bottomless expense. It is called requirements analysis and the military should not be immune.

            Deflection is the indicator of a stunted intellect but quite in keeping with the cult of personality around Trump. Heaven help us all with reason and evidence under attack. One might suggest that ceasing and desisting in such an unproductive line of attack.

    • old guy

      Correct. Too long have these outfits been inextricably attached to the Navy’s teat. I hope Prez Trump cuts the umbilical.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    HII also stands to benefit from any major change in the Navy’s SSC plan. If the service opts for a true FFG it will almost certainly end up being a HII produced hull.