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355-Ship Navy: Big Opportunity but Big Challenges

The stories are familiar to Bryan Clark, a former submarine officer who led strategic planning for the Navy as special assistant to the chief of naval operations until 2013. He is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The small to midsized suppliers to larger shipyards don't rely on automated processes or hundreds of workers. In some cases, specialized items "are made in an artisan sort of way," he said. That makes it more difficult for them to ramp up when, for example, the president and the Navy call for a 355-ship fleet. When it comes time to hire, they compete for a limited number of skilled workers with larger companies that can offer advanced training, tuition assistance and job stability, Clark said. "The workforce," Clark said, "ends up being the most concerning limitation on the industrial base." The concerns are not insurmountable, he said, but will acquire attention. For Congress and the Navy, it's not simply a matter of approving budgets and awarding contracts. "I think they will be able to gear up," he said, "but it will require a lot more industrial base management on the part of (Navy) program executive officers and program managers. They will have to work with them, not put unreasonable demands on that, don't pressure them to deliver on unrealistic schedules."

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