The U.S. shipbuilding industry is a tale of two cities. On the commercial side, the industry is a mere shadow of what it was a generation ago, when America was the biggest builder of oceangoing commercial vessels in the world. Today, thanks to subsidized competition from foreign shipyards, the U.S. produces less than 1% of oceangoing tonnage each year; few if any of the surviving American yards can compete outside the protected domestic market.
On the military side, though, America remains by far the most capable builder of naval vessels in the world. No other nation operates a fleet of large-deck, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. No other naval power can match the sophistication of the Navy’s continuously improving submarines. The U.S. amphibious warfare fleet is unique in its scale and versatility. U.S. surface combatants are the gold standard against which other navies measure their capabilities.
Of course, it helps that at about $200 billion annually, the U.S. Navy’s budget is bigger than the total military spending of any nation other than China. But as recent events have demonstrated, that is the kind of money Washington must spend in order to fulfill the maritime role it has assumed in the world. Even at half a billion dollars per day, the Navy is hard-pressed to keep up with demand for its warships in the Western Pacific, the Persian Gulf, and other strategically important regions.
Which brings me to an uncomfortable reality about the shipbuilding industry that the Navy depends on to deliver the most advanced warships in the world. Although the business is bursting with opportunities in the current fiscal environment, its ability to keep up with Navy needs is by no means assured.
An interagency task force assembled by the White House reported last year that several chronic problems in the naval shipbuilding sector could compromise industry’s ability to meet projected levels of demand or respond to a national emergency. The problems are largely traceable to how Washington’s political culture operates, and the inefficiencies that result. (end of excerpt)
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