By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
It has been a good year for Austal USA.
The Mobile-based shipbuilder has been steadily growing and gaining a foothold in the commercial and defense industries since it first opened in 1999, but 2018 has the makings of a banner year.
The mini-bus appropriations legislation signed into law by President Trump on Monday includes funding for three Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and one Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF), both of which Austal manufactures in Mobile.
Lockheed Martin also builds an LCS at its Marinette, Wisconsin shipyard and the two companies have traditionally shared the workload. However, for the second straight year, the U.S. Navy has awarded Austal two of the three LCS contracts. That suggests the company is producing vessels on time and on budget.
Craig Perciavalle, President of Austal USA, credited the company’s success to its workers, supplier network, and support from Alabama’s Congressional delegation.
“Our success in our short 18-year history is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the greatest shipbuilders in the world here at Austal USA, our steadfast supplier network, and the incredible support from Senator Shelby, Congressman Byrne and many other elected officials and community leaders across the state,” Perciavalle said.
But could the golden goose fly away? The Navy plans to eventually phase out the LCS program and transition to a frigate ship. Austal has contracted to build 17 LCS in all, nine delivered, five under construction, and three awaiting start of construction. Two of Austal’s LCS are named for Alabama cities – the USS Montgomery, which has been delivered and will deploy next year, and the USS Mobile, which is currently under construction.
Austal should have plenty of business to keep its 4,000-employee shipyard working for the next few years. And, while the Navy’s frigate plans have yet to fully take shape, Austal is hoping its success with the LCS program render it well-positioned to compete for future Navy projects, including the frigate.
Perciavalle told Alabama Daily News the company plans to remain a part of the Pentagon’s plans to grow the Navy fleet.
“We’re well positioned to help build, sustain and support the Navy’s 355-ship fleet and to meet the Navy’s emerging requirements of the future.”
Congressman Bradley Byrne has made Mobile’s shipbuilding industry a priority, and has championed the LCS program as Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.
“Austal is absolutely critical to President Trump’s and Secretary Mattis’s goal of a 355-ship Navy, not to mention the important role they play in our state’s economy,” Byrne told Alabama Daily News.
“There are only seven shipyards in the United States that build ships for the U.S. Navy, and we can’t afford to lose any given the Navy’s stated needs and the threat environment around the globe.”
Byrne credited Sen. Richard Shelby, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Alabama’s representation on the House Appropriations and Armed Services Committees for protecting funding and authorization for the LCS and EPF programs.
“We are fortunate to have Senator Shelby over in the Senate to help support Austal and the Navy, in addition to our strong representation on the Appropriations and Armed Services committees in the House.
“As with any major defense program, there are always battles over funding and priorities, but I’m proud of the success our legislative delegation has had in supporting the Navy and the 4,000 men and women who work at the shipyard.”
Shelby surprised all of Washington this year when he reset the appropriations process to ensure government funding bills got passed on time for the first time in more than 20 years. Upon passage of the latest mini-bus, he specifically pointed out how important the defense portion was to the military being able to plan for the future.
“This measure will deliver the resources and certainty that the American military deserves, specifically the largest year-to-year increase in defense funding in 15 years,” Shelby said. “After a lack of investment to our nation’s Armed Services, Congress is working to strengthen our national defense.”