Innovation in Shipbuilding in the US

An overview of the key innovation strategies for shipbuilding in the US

At Sea Air Space 2018, MONCh attended the panel on ‘Innovation in Shipbuilding’ and presents here an overview of the main themes approached during the rich presentations and interesting Q&A session.

Mrs Allison Stiller, Principal Civilian Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy Research, Development and Acquisition opened the panel by indicating that shipbuilding is certainly headed in the direction of innovation and that the US is strengthening its ability to get there. She pointed to three elements that are currently being addressed at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in order to enable innovation in shipbuilding: providing stability and a plan; measuring the health of the supplier base; and, developing the workforce.

There have been ups and downs over the years, even despite plans such as the current one to reach a 355 strong-fleet, and there is an understanding that stability is vital. As such it is crucial to try to employ tools within the shipbuilding plan, such as multi-year and block-buys, using economic ordered quantities (EOQ) and also putting in incentives for the yards.

Now there is also a turn towards the supplier base to make sure that it is healthy, as there are concerns about the financial health of some suppliers while others are moving offshore. In this sense, the Office is working with the shipbuilders to identify those that are the most vulnerable or critical or where there are single source suppliers. NAVSEA also developed the Supplier Chain Analytics Tool that helps looking at where there might be risks in the supply chain. Therefore, from industry, there is a need for the shipbuilders to help monitoring but also for suppliers to identify if they have concerned so that they can be addressed.

Last but not least, there is an increasing effort on maintaining the workforce, both on the government and the industry side. This includes an Acquisition Career Council to look at the government acquisition workforce, national leads assigned to each carrier field to monitor the health of the workforce, training opportunities and attrition to make sure that all issues are being addressed as soon as they arise. On the industry side, there is a continued effort to partner with state officials to maintain the strong shipbuilding workforce, and this may go toward standardisation and training to help people to migrate across different jobs.

Vice Admiral Thomas Moore, USN, Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, continued by discussing a couple of key points to keep in mind when talking about innovation in shipbuilding today. Firstly, we are now in a digital age and as we go into an area of innovation in shipbuilding it is key to be able to embrace it. In this he referred to the possibility that is increasingly offered by shipbuilders to take a virtual tour of a ship in order to give customer feedback and choose how to best organise the space on ships. Secondly, we are now in the age of the electric ship, which requires to think differently about the way ships are being built in order to be agile in facing future threats. However, while these are undoubtedly key points for shipbuilding, it is also important to not forget maintenance because there is a need for a healthy industrial base on the repair side too. As such the level of innovation on maintenance is going to be as important.

Rear Admiral John P. Neagley, USN, Programme Executive Officer, Littoral Combat Ships, discussed the three levers in the work of the PEO in the Naval Sea Systems Command, namely: how to optimise competition across the portfolio in every aspect; how to get to design stability before building; how to get to EOQ that drives a healthy supply base and drives down cost.

Rear Admiral William J. Galinis, USN, Programme Executive Officer, Ships, noted that there are three areas in particular that are important to shipbuilding. Firstly, the importance of taking current designs, leverage the work that has been done on them and provide new and advanced capabilities to the force. Indeed, when looking at programmes such as the DDG51 one can see that the last three ships are quite different from the first ships that were built, and this is being done across the board. Secondly, how to get capabilities to the fleet quicker: block buys and multi-year procurements send a strong demand signal to the industry to allow them to size their workforce and facilities. The way in which materials for those ships are procured is also crucial: EOQ buys increase the buying power. Thirdly, the workforce is key because we are seeing that there are strains and difficulties in replenishing the workforce and it will be crucial to work on this. Some of the most successful programmes initiate their own organic apprenticeship programmes or team with either local community colleges or high schools to provide a training path and replenish their workforce, and it will be important to learn from those initiatives.

Rear Admiral Michael J. Haycock, US Coast Guard (USCG), Assistant Commandant for Acquisitions, Chief Acquisition Officer, stated that he would ‘throw some teasers’ in relation to how the USN and USCG could innovate; these could be developed further if needed.  Firstly, partnership building to feed the acquisition process. For instance, the acquisition process for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) was a significant ‘lessons learned’ for the National Security Cutter (NSC) and as a result the USCG really tried to leverage industry engagement, which started off with a competition that slowly went from six, to three, to one and which was seen as a really good model to acquire a ship. For the Heavy Polar Ice Breaker (HPIB), the USCG has been using an integrated programme officer and teamed-up with the USN on this to capitalise on some of the innovative approaches the Navy has used. Secondly, on the design and construction innovation side RADM Haycock gave three examples: the NSC, for which the USCG used a land-based facility as well as working with the USN to bring their expertise to bear; the Fast Response Cutter (FRC), for which the USCG, in attempt to bring down life cycle costs, put on some special propellers and looking at other designs that could yield significant cost benefits in the future; the OPC, for which they reached a certain design percentage before starting the construction part as well as making sure that there were a number of work packages ready to make sure that all proceeded smoothly.

The Q&A session perfectly wrapped-up the main points raised by the panellists. Emphasis was put on the importance to communicate and work closely with industry to make sure that they can have a better sense of the programmes that are emerging and how these will impact their workload in the coming years. This should facilitate planning for the shipyards but also planning for the future workforce. On this, all panellists agreed that there is a need to leverage what is going on at the shipyard level in order to find a model that can be more efficient and used collectively.


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