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A Brief History of Shipbuilding in Recent Times

Tim ColtonLaVar Huntzinger
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The condition of U.S. shipbuilding‌

U.S. shipbuilding has been examined repeatedly in recent years with general agreement about the major findings. From the ship- builders' perspective, the major problem is that too few large ships are being ordered and built; and from the perspective of buyers, the major problem is that large U.S. built ships cost too much. There is no consensus, however, about what can, or should, be done about the major problems nor about the relative importance of many related issues. This study traces the effects of important recent events leading to the current situation.

Several characteristics of ships and shipbuilding give continuing importance to past events. Because modern ships have an economic life of about 30 years, some of the factors affecting the current market are echoes from past events. And other factors that affect the current market are based on expectations about what is likely to happen in the next 30 years. Such factors in turn cause echoes because future events are often based on what happened in the past. Another reason past events continue to have influence is that large numbers of skilled workers and costly facilities are required for ship construction. Coor- dinating efficient use of the facilities and effective use of the work force is always complicated and challenging; and interruptions are almost impossible to accommodate because an efficient shipyard and effective labor force can't be maintained without building ships. Start- ing new shipbuilding operations, or significantly increasing the scale of existing operations, requires complicated planning and years of investment. In addition, prospective changes in shipbuilding often become political issues. They become political issues because they influence the economic health of regions and because ships are important in warfare, both as warfighting platforms and for trans- porting cargo. These complicating factors make changes controver- sial so they tend to be contemplated and argued for years and implemented slowly and partially. This becomes another connection with the past.

Because the condition of U.S. shipbuilding has roots in history, trac- ing the recent history helps us explain and understand the current condition. Our summary covers the last 60 years. We focus on four his- torical events that had major impact on shipbuilding: World War II, the Suez Crisis in 1956, the OPEC oil embargo in 1973, and the end of the Cold War in 1989. Although in some ways the shipbuilding industry in the United States has become isolated from the world market, we trace the history of the world shipbuilding industry for several reasons. One is that tracing developments in world shipbuild- ing provides a proper context for considering U.S. shipbuilding. Another reason is that U.S. shipbuilding was once more a part of the world market than it is now and may need to become so again. We are interested in both commercial and navy ships. Although commercial and navy ships are very different and at any point in time it may seem that navy shipbuilders and merchant shipbuilders are two distinct groups, most naval shipbuilders have built merchant ships, and many, if not most merchant shipbuilders have also built naval ships.

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Approved for Public Release; Distribution Unlimited. Specific authority: N00014-00-D-0700

Details

  • Pages: 36
  • Document Number: CRM D0006988.A1/Final
  • Publication Date: 9/1/2002
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