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Huge stakes in ship competition

August 30, 2010 - Jim Anderson

The best ship at the best price.

That’s the decision the U.S. Navy is mulling on a contract that means thousands of jobs for our region.

Marinette Marine is competing against an Alabama shipyard to build up to 55 shallow-water combat ships. Only one design will be chosen.

A decision was expected in August, but the Navy has asked for more information.

Revised final designs will be submitted soon, with a finding to come within 90 days, according to the Navy.

The initial contract is for 10 ships and is worth nearly $5 billion. It would add 2,200 jobs at the Marinette facility and maybe 6,500 more at suppliers in the region, according to Wisconsin officials.

An extension of the contract for all 55 ships could keep the shipyard busy for the next 30 years.

It’s always hard to separate politics from these decisions, but the foot-dragging suggests the Navy is trying to ward off an appeal from the loser.

A defense industry consultant told Reuters.com it was "highly unusual" for the  Navy to ask more questions so late in the procurement process. Jay Korman, an analyst with the Washington-based research group Avascent, said a contract protest is widely expected.

"They want to make sure this is a bulletproof acquisition," Korman said.

Splitting the contract between the shipyards seems unlikely. The designs are vastly different and the all-or-nothing competition is meant to hold down costs. Also, the Alabama design couldn't be built in Wisconsin because the ship is too wide to exit the Great Lakes.

Mobile, Ala., shipbuilder Austal USA and its partner General Dynamics Corp. have developed an aluminum-hull ship with a huge flight deck for landing helicopters.

The steel-hull Lockheed Martin design from Marinette is narrower and offers more hangar space. It also would be better for launching small boats used by Navy SEALs, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis.

Both ships can travel at more than 40 mph.

As reported by Reuters, a meeting of the Pentagon's Defense Acquisition Board to review the Littoral Combat Ship program has been delayed until mid-October.

 
 

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