Other Opinions

Mississippi Coast, Ingalls ready for role in stronger Navy

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula.
Arleigh Burke-class destroyers at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

With nearly 12,000 proud shipbuilders, we at Ingalls Shipbuilding are currently building 11 different ships today, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and our future is bright.

Like any great undertaking, shipbuilding is a team sport, and along with our customers — the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard; our nationwide network of 3,000 suppliers; our well-trained, talented and dedicated workforce; our supporters in local, state and Federal government, especially in the Mississippi and Alabama Congressional delegations and their colleagues, Ingalls is part of a great team who truly believe in a strong national defense and homeland security posture.

While Washington, DC is a long way from the Gulf Coast, what happens there matters a great deal to us. Late last year, President Trump signed the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act into law which included a change in United States policy, spearheaded by Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and Virginia Congressman Rob Wittman, calling for a Navy battle force of 355-ships.

This policy, known as the Securing the Homeland by Increasing our Power on the Seas Act, significantly exceeds previous pledges for 308 ships. In our view, the enactment of the SHIPS Act, putting into law the Nation’s commitment to a 355-ship Navy, sends a strong signal of support to the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base, which stands ready to meet the Nation’s needs.

The good news is the shipbuilding industry is ready to meet the president’s and Congress’s goal.

Brian Cuccias

But we need some important tools to deliver ships even faster and more cost-effectively.

Last year, I traveled to Washington and had the honor of representing the men and women of Ingalls when I testified before the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee about options for achieving a 355-ship navy.

At the hearing I shared how Ingalls is already making significant capital investments in our shipbuilders and our yard — supported in large measure by our great state of Mississippi — to improve the efficiency and the affordability of the ships we build. I also offered other ways that industry, Congress, and the Navy can work together to do even more.

All of my suggestions had two things in common: stability and predictability — in design and requirements, in funding, and on schedule. I strongly believe that maintaining a stable design and stable requirements on optimum and predictable construction intervals is the most efficient path to an affordable and capable 355-ship battle force. In addition to allowing shipbuilders and suppliers to more closely replicate the benefits you would expect from an assembly line, this approach also provides the clear signal government and industry needs to properly plan for production, put in place efficient long-range hiring plans and establish and fine-tune hot production lines.

Furthermore, I recommended that the government acquire ships in multiship procurements — whether in block buys or in multi-year procurements. This is a proven approach to reducing the price of ships; one that our Nation already benefits from in programs like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Virginia-class submarines. Expanding the practice of buying ships in block in the future would likely save the taxpayers millions of dollars and allow the industrial and supplier base to deliver ships to the Navy and Coast Guard more affordably and sooner.

The size and capability of a nation’s Navy have long been a measure of that nation’s strength, both to deter foes that would do us harm as well as to assure friends that stand with us. We shipbuilders are partners with Congress, the Navy, Coast Guard and our supply chain in building the fleet the nation needs at a price it can afford.

Brian Cuccias is president of Ingalls Shipbuilding