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Obsessed by Navy Revival Idea

11.01.12
Text: Russian Guild of Shipbuilders, Vladimir Aleksandrov
Photo: shipbuilding.ru
Shipbuilding is a science-intensive branch incorporating almost all areas of knowledge. It has dynamically developed in the recent years and may bring the whole Russian industry to a new level.

Vladimir Aleksandrov, Doctor of Engineering, professor, president of the Krylov Technical Society of Shipbuilders, Hero of the Russian Federation
It is an encouraging trend of recent years that revival of the Navy is in the center of government's attention. They adopted the State Arms Program for the period till 2020. It was planned to bankroll 5.3 trillion rubles for the Navy renovation, lead ships of several projects are at different stages of completeness. Vladimir Putin held meetings resulted in fateful decisions. One of the most memorable meetings was held two years ago at Admiralteyskie Verfi shipyard. On agenda was outlining of prospects for military shipbuilding for nearest decades. Our scientific and production capacities are quite enough to complete those tasks. However, things are not as good as they seem. Losses of 90's were too heavy, when we almost ruined shipbuilding industry along with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, in 2000's most of our shipyards have survived, kept research and production capacity and specialists, and now are ready to take a decisive step ahead. The main thing is to strengthen technical merit. Much has been already done for that.

Now we talk one language even with economists. They have learned that a ship cannot be constructed in three months; money must come in time but not in the last moment. Because production is a slice-of-life – if a man is starved out for a week and then eats a bucket of soup, he would never digest it. There is an operation schedule listing basic shipbuilding stages, i.e. research and development, engineering preparation of production, procurement and delivery of associated equipment, armament, metals, fittings, and manufacturing process itself. Also, there is a chart of deadlines with percentage completeness for every phase of construction and required financing. Any time you may recognize the point where the construction is, identify all bottlenecks, how much investments are needed, and what is to be done in prospect. When a customer advances and pays up every phase under strict control of military observers, shipbuilding companies do not need to run into credits and pay bank interests. Everything is clear, suitable, beneficial, and reliable – both for the Navy and for a shipyard. We always work on such scheme with export orders. But if a Russian shipowner builds his fleet in Korea, he provides 80% advance, while considers possible to pay only 30% or 50% for domestic shipyards. I'm for production discipline. Customer must be responsible for untimely financing, contractor – for unperformed work. As long as contracts are signed by two parties, responsibility must be mutual as well.

They may say market would set the things straight, but the system won't work without distinct vertical production structure from the ministry and military industrial committee down to a small enterprise producing ship's rivets. Many items of State Defense Order 2011 were settled in November. Defense ministry says we claim too much money. We answer that everything has been figured up, all expenses have been calculated. Let us either check together or use international practice and rely on factory price. World price of a diesel submarine is, say, $200 mln. So, pay. In this case, customer doesn't care what is a turner's hour labor cost, output, percentage, overhead charges. For instance, defense ministry all the time reproaches Sevmash shipyard for maintaining a recreation center and subsidiary plots. But for what money they must be maintained? It is a town-forming company. Will municipal administration withhold all that social expenses? Those issues must be undoubtedly settled by the government. And above all, it should provide work for colossal production capacities. We cannot make out the sense why Europe's largest slipways of Admiralteyskie Verfi and Baltiysky Zavod stay idle. Take note, they could build everything, from dry cargo ships to heavy cruisers. And make no mistake, all programs providing tight workload have been already adopted. Because of a certain inertia accumulated in the recent decades, we still cannot start right away like Japanese or Korean companies. We need a time stock to prepare production. Sure, we should strain after line production like in the West. But to do that, every shipyard working for the Navy must picture workload for the foreseeable future in order to timely renovate machinery and retrain specialists. If batch production starts – about twenty vessels of different types a year, like it was in the past – shipyards would invest in new technologies. But no economy could stand involvement of hundreds of scientific and production staffs in one order. When building a ship, our yards take only one third of the overall price, just like in other countries. The rest of money is spent for component parts, for suppliers etc.

Tenders for three diesel electric icebreakers, then nuclear-powered 60-mW icebreakers and a 110-mW super-icebreaker Leader are edgily awaited. It is essential that Russian companies would place orders for ships primarily at national shipyards. In this case, apart from standard quality and reliability parameters typical for all yards, our shipbuilding companies could have a great incentive comparing to foreign competitors, i.e. to build faster, cheaper or improve operational characteristics for Russian ships, increase speed on 0.1-0.2 knots which is important for merchant ships. In design, our projects have always been and are on top. That is a merit of designers and experts of the Krylov scientific center which has been testing and updating all Russian maritime hardware for over 115 years.

Another issue is that our design bureaus have been inclined to military shipbuilding, and at the current stage it would be effective to establish one design organization for civil fleet, for instance, within the United Shipbuilding Corporation. This idea is dictated by great plans to renew transport and special-purpose ships, and an international cooperation program at the Far East (say, with South Korea) and in St. Petersburg.

Dozens of projects were simultaneously under construction for Soviet Navy. Today, there are not so many of them. Lead corvettes and frigates for surface fleet have been already built (developers are Almaz and Severnoye Design Bureaus). Corvettes are for littoral zone, frigates – for sea zone. To sail oceans, new destroyers and large antisubmarine warfare ships are needed. And to let Russia demonstrate its naval ensign all across the world, project of a new heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser is on the tapis now (traditional developer is Nevskoye Design Bureau).

United Shipbuilding Corporation gives a piece of good news. Construction of nitrogen-alloy ships begins. They are almost non-magnetic and put up good performance both at low and high temperatures.

Far more complex task is shipboard electronics. Russian civil shipowners got hooked on imported electronics. But warships must not have even a rivet made abroad. And now, despite all obvious problems, we must be extremely careful with ship control systems which are 'brains' providing decision making. It is unacceptable that our combat commands would be instantly decoded by someone and transmitted to another state. We need own domestically-designed hardware components, microelectronics, and breakthrough technologies. Our instrument-making engineers recently reported on their projects quite soundly. But to implement them, time and money are needed. So far, we are at least 20 years behind our opponents as of radioelectronics and information technology. Russia's development in this area was heavily slowed by the breakup of Soviet research and production complex. Sure, through recent years designers and experts have learned a lot, but shipbuilding is still not working as an integrated and well-balanced system. We're only on the way to that.

There is a future-oriented expert council headed by academician Peshekhonov. At the Putin's presidency, opinion of specialists began to be reckoned with. Then came the first results. The government allocated money, and Severnoye Design Bureau engineered an LNG carrier yielding to none of foreign analogs. Being currently under construction, Dalnevostochnye Verfi shipyard will accept that order. The Shipbuilding and Ship Repair Center kicked off creation of an up-to-date metalworking line, special bending equipment. It is madly expensive to import it. Besides, Russia has production facilities capable to make appropriate pressing machines, bending rolls, processing lines. Unfortunately, through recent two decades machine tool industry has been almost buried, and things have to be started over again. Perhaps, we did right getting off semi-natural economy at every single factory. Now we buy the lion's share from cooperating enterprises. The main thing is that executing of the Navy contracts in market conditions would be to their advantage. For this end, one should build batchwise but not single ships.

To implement governmental fleet renovation programs, new shipyards will be in need. One is being constructed in the Far East, another one – in Kronshtadt. New dry dock is needed in Severodvinsk not only for submarines but for large surface ships as well. We could not build an aircraft carrier at available slipways but will do that at prospective capacities in Kronshtadt and Severodvinsk. At the same time, I'm sure – and most of St. Petersburg shipbuilders agree with me – it is more profitable to preserve shipbuilding production at traditional capacities of Baltiysky Zavod and Admiralteyskie Verfi shipyards instead of being under thumb of 'grabitizators' and converting workshops into business centers and luxury residential districts. In St. Petersburg, business centers can be found more frequently than bakeries, and enterprises making competitive products can be counted on the fingers of one hand! One month ago even interference of the Prime Minister was needed to save Baltiysky Zavod and Proletarsky Zavod from bankruptcy! Slipways of Baltiysky Zavod are vital to the Navy renovation. As well as without Admiralteyskie Verfi shipyard nearly parceled out for construction of a street. The industry cannot be preserved without Proletarsky Zavod either, since it produces unique shipbuilding aggregates. Only carrier's deck takeoff/landing system is something worth mentioning! And if – God forbid – Elektrosila or Kirovsky Zavod or other enterprises are 'shaken', there would be nobody to deliver electrical facilities, turbines, reactor plants, pumps, compressors etc. You cannot sail far on empty hull without internals!

That is why the system must be in question – both within our sector and between shipbuilders, cooperating organizations, and local authorities. The Soviet Union did have such interaction. The Central Committee and the Government set tasks, and their completion was upon regional committees and planning commissions. For example, there was information that Baltiysky Zavod would get orders for series of nuclear icebreakers and heavy cruisers; the shipyard would need 2,000 workers provided with dwelling, transport, schools, vocational colleges and so. Advanced training institutes, shops, canteens, and culture centers sprang up like mushrooms… This kind of coordination craves considerable attention. Shipbuilding is teamwork. Thankfully, we have managed to keep the backbone of highly-skilled professionals. They must be provided with normal working conditions, fair wages, and opportunities for growth. Young workers should be taught, mentors should be encouraged, labor dynasties should be supported and propagandized. And of course, there must not be spontaneous decisions on appointment of executive staff. Director of shipyard is a rare profession. Along with occupational skills, a man must have charisma, be able to see prospects, feel problems, serve to the nation, the Navy, and subordinate staff. If a man sees only figures counting own profits, he is not worth a brass farthing. And take note, as soon as a new director comes about 30% of managers are also normally changed as well. They all need to rub along together, get on the inside, and earn good reputation. Even in Soviet times, when a new shop manager was appointed, the whole staff received increased pay throughout the next year to help the newcomer to his feet and begin work effectively. Today generations are changing, and new directors come. What's wrong with profiting from Soviet experience? It was common in shipbuilding industry that a mid-level executive was posted upstairs to another shipyard, say, from the post of building manager to chief engineer. Such staff flow was not offensive, quite the reverse, it maintained continuity. Directors were trained by ministries. Normally, every director was 'grown' from effective workshop managers. Head of chief directorate was appointed from the most competent directors of largest enterprises. That is why everybody in the shipbuilding industry used one language, not in broad lines but in particular. Production is by no means simpler than economics. Right the reverse, you deal not with figures but with processes and real people. And you stake your life on everything including figures. Today, industry in general and shipbuilding in particular face a critical point. Many things depend on initiative and desire of companies. We must stop crying and talking about problems, and move ahead reconstructing integrated research and production complex.

The three-year budget is the first step towards restoration of the system. A ship is built in three years. Plus same period for development works. However, such 'wake' scheme of task fulfillment – first science, then designing, and finally construction – must be modernized first of all. We should work in parallel, half a year or even a year ahead of schedule. This is quite possible, if only all links – customers, designers, shipbuilders, and contractors – would be obsessed by one common idea of navy renovation. Shipbuilding does have all needed things, i.e. ideas, designers, productive capacities, and qualified specialists.