Navy's departing Bath shipbuilding commander reflects on making history
The Zumwalt-class destroyer is floated out from dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine, Oct. 28, 2013. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974.
BATH, Maine — Capt. Robert Crowe didn’t hesitate on Thursday when asked to recall the most significant event during his three-year tenure as commander of the Navy’s Supervisor of Shipbuilding at Bath Iron Works.
“The deckhouse,” he said, remembering the December 2012 operation in which the 900-ton deckhouse of the $3.3 billion Zumwalt destroyer was lifted by four cranes and placed on the first of three 12,000-ton stealth warships being built in Bath.
“It was a phenomenal event,” Crowe said Thursday morning, sitting in his sunny but nearly-empty office overlooking High Street and the green, hulking assembly building where destroyers are under construction. “It was ‘all hands on deck’ — SUPSHIP, BIW and program folks from D.C. We had folks camping out in warehouses, and in this building, for days.”
On Dec.15, 2012, four cranes lifted the 60-foot-high deckhouse of the first-in-class Zumwalt destroyer 89 feet in the air, moved the hull of the more than 12,000-ton-warship underneath the deckhouse, and then lowered the deckhouse onto the vessel.
“It’s an impressive ship,” he said.
Crowe said the milestone was the most memorable event in his three years at BIW. But on Friday, he’ll mark another milestone, when he relinquishes the command of SUPSHIP Bath to Capt. Michael Taylor.
“Three years has gone by like a snap of the fingers,” Crowe said.
Much of that time Crowe has spent overseeing the construction of the DDG 1000, christened in April, and the next — and final — two in the Zumwalt line, DDG 1001, the future USS Michael Mansoor, and DDG 1002, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson.
Stationed in a large brick building across Washington Street from the shipyard, SUPSHIP oversees Department of Defense contracts with Bath Iron Works.
But as commander of SUPSHIP Bath, Crowe has responsibilities all over the country, including 290 military and civilian employees. Crowe supervises construction of mobile landing platforms at General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, as well as littoral combat ships in Marinette, Wisconsin.
He also oversees construction of two Navy research vessels in Anacortes, Washington, and the dismantling of old carriers in Texas.
During his tenure, Crowe oversaw the delivery of seven vessels, including one — the USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) — built in Bath and delivered to the Navy in 2011.
Crowe said BIW has made “impressive investments” in recent years to increase efficiencies. Most notably, a natural gas main was connected between the company’s Brunswick facilities and the shipyard in Bath, and a new blast/paint building and addition to the existing Ultra Hall are underway.
Crowe described the shipyard’s backlog of work as “healthy,” with three DDG 1000 ships and seven DDG 51s, or Arleigh Burke-class line of destroyers, the precursor to the Zumwalt, which has been restarted after Pentagon officials deemed the stealth destroyers to be too costly for an extended construction run.
Last June, the U.S. Navy awarded BIW contracts to build four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and in March, a fifth was added.
The shipyard is one of four finalists to build a new fleet of offshore Coast Guard cutters, and it was already awarded a $21 million contract for preliminary design work for those vessels.
In late August, BIW secured a contract potentially worth $100 million to provide planning services for the littoral combat ship program.
While the details of the contract are still unclear, the work is “very positive” for the yard, Crowe said.
“The [littoral combat ship] is about the biggest backlog the Navy has now,” Crowe said. “There are contracts and ships being built. That’s a lot of good work for engineers and planners.”
As for the crown jewel, while the Navy in 2008 curtailed the Zumwalt line at three ships because of costs, Crowe acknowledged “the talk” in Washington that the Navy could change its mind.
“The talk is, ‘Yeah, when they get a taste of the first ship …’” he said. “I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of dialogue and discussion, but that type of discussion is ‘downtown’ — my boss’ boss. For right now, there are three under contract.”
In a ceremony Friday morning at Waterfront Park, Taylor will assume command of SUPSHIP from Crowe. Taylor has history in Bath, having served at SUPSHIP previously.
For months Crowe has spoken with Taylor biweekly, and then weekly, about what the new commander should expect. Among the challenges he will face, the deckhouse of the DDG 1001 should arrive soon at the Bath shipyard, another 900-ton operation. And 90 sailors are already in Bath, training to take the Zumwalt out for sea trials next spring.
“He’s going to come in at a very interesting time,” Crowe said. “We have a lot going on.”
Crowe said the permanent team at SUPSHIP is “incredible,” and he has no doubt BIW will continue its success under Taylor’s watch.
©2014 the Bangor (Maine) Daily News. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.