National Security

Huntington officials tout shipbuilding plans at Beltway conference

Sailors stand on deck as the USS America LHA6 leaves Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., on Friday, July 11, 2014. Ingalls officials went to a symposium near the Pentagon this week to tout their shipbuilding prowess.
Sailors stand on deck as the USS America LHA6 leaves Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., on Friday, July 11, 2014. Ingalls officials went to a symposium near the Pentagon this week to tout their shipbuilding prowess. Biloxi Sun Herald/MCT

Huntington Ingalls Industries, the nation’s largest military shipbuilder and Mississippi’s largest employer, flexed its industry muscles Wednesday.

Officials of the company’s Pascagoula, Mississippi, operations are inside the Capital Beltway this week for the Surface Navy Association’s 28th Annual Symposium, where dozens of military contractors put up booths and held presentations less than two miles from the Pentagon.

Brian Cuccias, president of Ingalls Shipbuilding, gave attendees an update Wednesday morning on the company’s efforts to secure a new project.

With at least $60 million in capital improvements on the way at the 800-acre Pascagoula operation, Cuccias said Ingalls was in position to improve production efficiency and cut manufacturing costs in its construction of four classes of military ships.

“Everything that we’re doing is improving our costs,” Cuccias said. “Anytime you improve costs, you can actually offer more assets, more capability and a lower cost value.”

Cuccias said he hoped to win the contract to build Ingalls’ ninth national security cutter for the Coast Guard “as soon as possible.”

Funding for the $640 million vessel was secured in the recent omnibus spending bill, thanks to Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who included the proposal in the budget despite White House opposition.

$640 million Funding for a new Coast Guard cutter secured in recent omnibus bill by Sen. Thad Cochran

Last July, Sean Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, wrote Cochran a letter that called the proposed new cutter “an unnecessary acquisition.” It was included anyway, with Cochran saying the White House opinion was based on “dated assessments.”

Ingalls has already delivered five cutters and has three more under construction. National security cutters are the largest and most technologically advanced ship in the Coast Guard fleet. They conduct a variety of operations, including homeland security, environmental protection, law enforcement, marine safety and national defense missions.

Ingalls is in discussions with the Coast Guard about modifying the versatile cutter to be an “ice-capable” ship that can handle Arctic missions, Cuccias said.

“We think the ice-capable (cutter) makes a lot of sense,” Cuccias said. “It’s a capability that the Coast Guard doesn’t have, to operate through first-year ice, and the (cutter) can be very easily converted.”

Doing so would require an enhanced propulsion system, a strengthened hull and thicker steel, Cuccias said, “but it can be done in the (cutter) without much problem.”

Ingalls is in discussions with the Coast Guard about modifying the versatile cutter to be an ‘ice-capable’ ship that can handle Arctic missions.

As speculation about a 10th cutter begins to percolate, Cuccias wouldn’t discuss the possibility. But he said Ingalls’ track record put the company in position to win the contract if it materialized.

“I would say our performance, us being good in quality, good on (timely product delivery), being predictable and improving costs across the board kind of helps change the discussion on everything,” he said.

As part of its capital improvements, the company plans to add a new dry dock in Pascagoula and replace the current one, which was built in the 1960s. Company leaders also plan to add more covered space so workers can continue construction in extreme heat and harsh rains.

As the state’s largest employer, with more than 11,000 workers, Huntington is the nation’s only shipyard capable of building four classes of military ships.

With a $20 million state bond bill to fund its “Shipyard of the Future” project, Huntington will provide an additional $40 million toward the improvements.

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