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Small-craft builders could gain from Navy cuts

Smaller boatbuilders could benefit from the Navy's reduction in spending that is resulting in smaller boat orders.

Navy leaders have placed an emphasis on launching smaller, inexpensive systems with multiple capabilities from larger ships, according to an article in National Defense magazine.

Although small-boat manufacturers are not immune to downturns in military spending, they are better insulated from it. Because they build non-military-specific vessels — and ones that do not necessarily require complicated construction on the level of a large surface vessel — they can diversify more quickly, according to the article. They also have access to foreign and commercial markets that manufacturers of warships are often barred from tapping.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re totally insulated from the budget crisis,” Metal Shark Aluminum Boats national sales manager Dean Jones told National Defense. “In any market, boats are inherently expensive because of what they have to do and the difficulty of building them to exact specifications. But we’re cautiously optimistic that the small-boat Navy, at least, will not be as hard hit. We, and companies like us, offer a product that is unique in its purpose and capabilities, but that doesn’t necessarily shelter us.”

Metal Shark provides two of the Navy’s small patrol craft. The 27-foot Defiant is used as a force-protection vessel in foreign and domestic waters. Jones likened the patrol craft’s job to preventing attacks such as the one in 2000 that ripped a hole in the USS Cole in Yemen and killed 17 sailors. There are about 20 of the small boats in service.

The expansion of the small-boat Navy will augment the service by providing larger ships with a way to patrol and police shallower waters and rivers inland. They also can feed information to the fleet and operate in littorals within reach of missiles that could threaten large vessels.

Although big-ticket procurement programs grapple with heavy cuts to their bottom lines, several small-boat purchases continue at a brisk pace.

Safe Boats International was recently awarded a $30.5 million contract to build a new class of coastal patrol boats for the Navy’s Expeditionary Combat Command. The award is for an initial run of five boats. If the Navy decides to buy a sixth vessel, the company will net another $6 million. The Navy plans to eventually purchase 48 boats.

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