As global head of ABS government services, I’m hearing some consistent themes among the major naval and government fleet operators lately: “readiness first”, “age of the electric ship”, “building on lessons learned”, “ sustainment and service life predictability”, “crew considerations”. As a former sailor and engineering officer, I’m definitely sensing optimism surrounding these themes. It feels like an era of transition.
Naval and maritime service leaders in the U.S. and around the world are asking tough questions and breaking out of the status quo. New platforms are being delivered and more appear to be on the way. And, equally critical maintenance availability improvements and service life projects on existing vessels are happening. This as an era of transition driven by world events, national government expectations, emerging technologies, and as always, constrained budgets.
At the 2017 Sea-Air-Space conference in Washington, D.C., senior naval officers and defense officials aligned on issues such as collaboration between ship operators and suppliers, less complexity for the crew, shore-based testing and monitoring and cybersecurity. Of course, there were concerns for the private sector industrial base, crewing and reliability of certain new design concepts and engineering practices.
I think ship building and maintenance solutions emerging from the most recent commercial business cycle are transferable to the government sector. Examples of lessons learned include a number of companies that raced to build or convert to gain energy efficiency, only to discover that certain expensive devices and design features were practically useless. Other companies tried to extend a ship’s service life or cut back on maintenance without a well thought out approach, only to discover the costly price of untimely casualties and unplanned maintenance. Several others demanded too much of their crews, so they left, creating a crew shortage in a number of sectors.
Ship classification is helping the commercial industry avoid repeating its mistakes by publishing guides and offering services that promote safe, reliable ships despite the competitive business of international shipping. ABS has published energy efficiency guides and developed computational fluid dynamic analysis services and engine monitoring analytics that are helping to achieve real energy savings. Similarly, ABS developed guides and services for life-extension and condition-based maintenance as part of a larger, multi-year effort towards the future of class, which will use big data on a scale that’s only available to a major classification provider. Furthermore, ABS has published dozens of ergonomics and human factors engineering guides and notations to augment its traditional class rules and guides.
These measurable and sea-tested features of classification are available for naval and government vessels. I’m convinced that the appropriate measures are the same: adequate sea-keeping and up-time performance to achieve mission, service life predictability, on-time-on-budget construction and maintenance availabilities, and sustainability for the crews. While classification clients will always press the limits of speed, efficiency, payload, crewing and budgets, a good classification provider collects the hard lessons and applies state-of-the-art engineering practices to serve both the commercial and government maritime community during times of transition and opportunity.
Rear Admiral (ret) Jim Watson, is the Senior Vice President of Global Government Services at ABS.