National Maritime Day: Reflecting on our partnership with the U.S. Navy

National Maritime Day – May 22 in the United States – recognizes our nation’s maritime heritage and our dependence upon the sea. BAE Systems contributes to that proud tradition by keeping ships in tip-top shape, helping the U.S. Navy carry out its important mission of supporting U.S. national security and our allies.
BAE Systems’ Norfolk, Virginia shipyard recently dry-docked USS Wasp (LHD 1) to start a year-long maintenance project onboard the 843-foot-long (or 257-meter-long) amphibious assault ship.
 
National Maritime Day was first celebrated in the United States when steam was the new naval technology for transoceanic travel. Almost 90 years later, this day recognizes our nation’s maritime heritage and our dependence upon the projection of sea power to protect international trade and national security. U.S. flagged ships are an important part of our nation’s identity. Having the homegrown capability to keep them going is a must for our nation’s independence.

BAE Systems is a primary partner to the U.S. Navy. Along with our subcontractor partners and industry teammates, BAE Systems’ Ship Repair business sustains more than 150 top-of-the-line surface combatants. These complex ships require the best care before carrying our nation’s sailors and Marines overseas. Repairing and modernizing ships is a significant effort that requires the expertise of an experienced workforce and management team.

“Preparing for and executing work on a U.S. Navy warship requires extensive planning that takes time and resources, relying on multiple specialists throughout our organization,” said Paul Smith, vice president and general manager of BAE Systems Ship Repair. “These ships go on long deployments and are hard worked, so you have to know what to expect when they arrive in a shipyard for maintenance.”

It’s all about capacity and resources

BAE Systems employs tens of thousands of employees globally. There are about 3,000 in the United States dedicated to repairing and modernizing U.S. Navy ships. In addition, we have a long list of subcontractors, suppliers and temporary workers. And, our three fully-facilitized shipyards are located in the Navy’s biggest fleet concentration areas: Jacksonville, Florida; Norfolk, Virginia; and San Diego, California.

At each shipyard, we take pride in fixing ships. It is highly specialized industrial work. Each ship is different and each repair project has unique twists and turns. We learn something new every time a Navy ship arrives in one of our yards, and we and our customer are better off for it.

“Our work matters to the Navy and the readiness of the fleet,” Smith said. “The presence of private repair yards in the Navy’s homeports is as important to sustaining the surface combatant force as the Navy’s own shipyards are to maintaining nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. It is a critical allocation of resources and division of labor.”

In addition, the shipyards’ infrastructure must constantly be maintained and modernized. Constant investment and effective utilization is necessary to sustain the naval fleet’s needs.

Sustaining national security during a pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic posed significant challenges everywhere. It was an even bigger challenge when repair yards had to get ships back to the fleet, so the Navy could maintain its operational tempo. If ships aren’t available, it’s harder for the Navy to maintain its presence at sea, something adversarial nations could choose to exploit.

To avoid such a scenario, our shipyard craftsmen and women were relentless – and they had to be. Simply put, the Navy needed us and we needed our people. More than 90 percent of our employees were onsite every day from the beginning, learning to work differently in close quarters, given the intricacy of working on Navy ships.

Like the rest of the company, BAE Systems Ship Repair moved quickly to implement COVID safety procedures and measures to protect employees as they went about doing their jobs. This was a significant effort given the size of the workforce and the thousands of sailors and subcontractors also in the shipyard.

“I’m tremendously proud of all of our people who persisted in doing what needed to be done throughout this pandemic to carry out our vital national security mission,” Smith said. “Their resilience and dedication has been profound.”

Ready for the future

BAE Systems and its industry partners stand ready to support the Navy, as it determines the course for the composition of its future force. Whether it’s building a larger fleet or maintaining the current size, we will work with the Navy to sustain vessels now in service and those entering the fleet.

Our company believes ship maintenance works best when there is a level of workload predictability and business practice consistency over the long term. Such stability helps ship repair businesses like ours sustain the right workforce with the right skill sets now and into the future.

“We respond to our customer’s requirements every day,” Smith said. “In the process of doing so, we are investing in our workforce and transforming our business, seeking options and opportunity to decrease cycle time (getting ships in and out of repair jobs as quickly and effectively as possible), while continuously improving quality to eliminate rework. We are getting better at it every day.

“The work we do is vital to supporting the excellence of the U.S. Navy and its unrivalled maritime superiority, and that is something we can all celebrate in recognition of National Maritime Day,” Smith added.