Monday, October 09, 2017

Engineering is hard. Even harder in a global marketplace

New ships and their engineering plants have a long history of growing pains of one cause or another. Our LCS and the Royal Navy Type-45 are just two of the most recent examples.

At the end of this small article at's Murphy's Law about the next batch of 5 German Navy K130 corvettes, the author brings up a couple of issues that are a bit under-appreciated;
The first five K130s didn’t enter service until 2010 because it was found that there was a serious problem with the first ones delivered. It seems that the gearbox for the diesel engines were defective. Some screws came loose, fell into the gears, causing them fail. The gearbox was manufactured by a Swiss firm, and the Swiss reputation for flawless engineering was believed to have made a problem like this nearly impossible. But it turned out that the Swiss subcontracted much of the work to a Polish firm, which did not have the same Swiss standards of engineering excellence. The Germans demanded that the Swiss clear up this mess and delayed the first K130s entering service until 2010. The first two K130s were commissioned in 2008, but were soon decommissioned until the gearbox problems were addressed. Three more K130s were not commissioned until they had any needed modifications to their gearboxes and five were in service by 2013.
First issue: when you outsource your engineering - don't assume that is the end of the outsourcing chain. If you are "buying" a supplier's reputation, and are you actually getting that which you thing you're buying?

Second issue: while the peacetime economics may be sound, what are the potential issues at war with having significant parts of your warships built in other nations - especially ones that are not even allied with you?

When the next multi-year nation-state on nation-state war comes, which it will, who will be able at war to best get around the outsourcing efficiencies of peace?

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