Marinette Marine to build 2 Navy ships worth $696 million
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Military contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. will receive nearly $700 million to build two more littoral combat ships at the Marinette Marine shipyard in Marinette.
The U.S. Navy ships, to be built with fiscal 2013 funding, are expected to be finished by July 2018.
Lockheed Martin won a Navy contract in 2010 to build 10 of the warships in Marinette, and the $696 million announced Tuesday is part of that agreement.
With more than 1,400 employees, Marinette Marine is immersed in Navy shipbuilding that's resulted in steady hiring at the shipyard and 700 suppliers in 43 states, including more than 120 Wisconsin companies.
The Navy envisions a fleet of 55 littoral combat ships, with construction of the initial 20 vessels divided between Marinette and Austal USA in Mobile, Ala.
Thus far, the program hasn't been hurt by forced government spending cuts called sequestration. Three of the Marinette ships are under construction now, and two have already been delivered to the Navy.
The littoral ships can operate in waters as shallow as 20 feet and reach speeds topping 46 mph. The 380-foot vessels can be used on a variety of missions including mine sweeping, chasing terrorists and launching aerial drones.
They're important to the Navy's mission in the Persian Gulf, said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer with the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank on military matters.
"If the Navy doesn't buy littoral combat ships, it will end up using much more expensive ships to go around the world swatting at flies," Thompson said.
But the Navy probably doesn't need two types of ships for the same mission, and that could help Marinette.
The Lockheed Martin ship has a single steel hull and is narrower and more conventional than the tri-hull Austal ship. Both designs meet the Navy's criteria, but it would be cheaper to focus on one type of vessel, according to Thompson.
"At this point the Navy knows enough about these ships that it probably has an opinion on which one it prefers. The question is when, politically, it would be timely to select one design," Thompson said.
"My gut tells me the Navy will take the ship that looks more like a normal warship, which would be the Marinette design," he added.
The Navy is considering canceling an order for the 10th ship from Austal, said Jim Hasik, a defense industry consultant from Austin, Texas,
The Navy also could order 10 ships from each builder and then move on to something else, he said.
Fairbanks Morse Engine, in Beloit, designs and builds the twin diesel engines that -- combined with gas turbines -- power the Lockheed Martin.
Combined, the twin engines produce more than 17,000 horsepower.
"Those are some of our smaller engines. We build much larger engines for other ships," said Luke Fredrickson, marketing manager at Fairbanks Morse.
It's still unknown whether sequestration will affect the littoral combat ship program.
Lockheed Martin has referred to the across-the-board spending cuts as "blunt force trauma to industry."
Marinette's shipbuilding jobs are more secure as a result of the new orders, and the cost of the vessels has come down as the company and its supply chain have become more familiar with the design.
Overall, this is the largest shipbuilding program in the history of Marinette Marine, which has been building Navy ships since the early 1940s. The company was acquired by Italian yacht maker Fincantieri in 2008.
"They have invested a huge amount of money in that shipyard in the last couple of years. They're thinking well beyond the Navy contract," said Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board in Green Bay.