'Good, hard, solid work' drives Ingalls Shipbuilding

 Ingalls Shipbuilding will christen the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) on Saturday in Pascagoula.
ANDREW YOUNG/HUNTINGTON INGALLS INDUSTRIES Ingalls Shipbuilding will christen the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) on Saturday in Pascagoula.

Five years ago, when Huntington Ingalls Industries spun off from Northrop Grumman, its management set goals for the end of 2015 and President and CEO Mike Petters made his own rules.

"Across the board, by and large, we've done what we said we were going to do," Petters said. Ten ships are under construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, and a $618 million contract to build another destroyer was announced Wednesday.

Over the weekend, Petters will be exercising one of his personal rules when he arrives in Pascagoula for the christening of the destroyer Ralph Johnson (DDG-114).

Every quarter for five years he's visited the company shipyards in Pascagoula and Newport News, Va. He spends time, not just with the leadership team, but with the employees building the ships.

Of all the duties of his job, he said, "walking ships is probably the highlight of the quarter for me."

The future is bright for Ingalls Shipbuilding, the state's largest employer, Petters said. "The challenge in the years ahead will be to capture the new work that's out there."

Though HII doesn't have a large role in building the new Ohio-class submarines, how the government decides to pay for the Ohio replacement program will have a big impact on the company.

"If there's not new money out there it could come at the expense of other programs," he said. If a new funding source is provided, "then these other programs happen on time or maybe even early, which would be great news for Ingalls. If that doesn't happen, well then it's going to be quite an arm wrestling match over what gets crowded out and what actually goes forward."

Petters asked the Navy to speed up its timetable two years and start production of the new LX(R) dock landing ship program in Pascagoula in 2018, while the production line is still in place.

The Navy decided to use the hull of LPD ships as a basis for the LX(R) program. Petters said, "What we also have right now is we have a hot production line and we're building LPDs hulls."

Congress recognized there would be a gap between programs and decided to build LPD 28 as a bridge to the LX(R), he said. There still will be break in production if the schedule isn't accelerated, which would mean the crew would have to restart and go back and learn all the lessons again. "And those are expensive lessons," he said.

Across the entire corporation is a backlog of about $22 billion in work and HII is pursuing talks of building an icebreaker after President Barack Obama spoke about the need from Alaska last year.

"We may have been the builder of the last ice breaker that the government acquired and that was a long time ago," Petters said. It would be a fairly complex ship and he said, "the more complex the platform is, the more interested we become."

Petters made news recently when he decided to donate his base salary of nearly $1 million a year to launch an education fund for the children of employees. He had the benefit of a scholarship that put him on a great life path, he said, and giving back is an investment and recognizes the hard work of the employees. "They build these incredible platforms. They go out and make history for the next 50 years," he said.

They also keep track of the ships they build and continue to track their missions around the world.

Ingalls Shipbuilding has strengths to carry it into the future," Petters said. "Katrina forced Ingalls to rebuild itself." The Pascagoula shipyard has been called one of the most modern in the Western Hemisphere and HII is investing $1.5 billion in capital improvements at its Pascagoula and Newport News yards over the next three to five years to make processes more efficient.

"The nation is going to continue to need a Navy but it needs to be the most efficiently produced Navy we can create," he said. And though HII has diversified into environmental and energy services, "there's no future for our company where our partnership with the Navy is not the center reason for us to exist."

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