Austal shipbuilding methods winning contracts with US Navy

Exports are often an unrecognised but critical element of the viability of many major local defence industry companies.

One of those is the Perth-based Austal, which has become a major supplier to the US Navy.

“Exporting was probably the key to this company’s success,” says the outgoing chief executive officer of Austal, Andrew Bellamy, who will be stepping down from the position soon.

The manufacturer of innovative aluminium ships operates from shipyards in WA, the Philippines and Alabama, the latter where has the third-largest shipyard in the United States. It builds – or is building – defence vessels for Australia, USA, Oman, Yemen, Malta, Kuwait, Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda, and it supplied all 30 of Australia’s border patrol vessels.

“Exporting means bigger orders, more work, manufacturing to different requirements,” Bellamy says. “Being part of a large project with the US Navy allows us to invest in the shipyards and people.”

Austal started life making very fast, multi-hull ferries out of aluminium. It expanded from exporting the distinctive designs to Asian commercial customers and in 1999 signalled its intention to expand into military shipbuilding when it opened Austal USA. Having won the contract to build Armidale-class ships for the Royal Australian Navy in 2003, it moved into contract work for the US Navy, winning a 10-ship contract for the EPF (Expeditionary Fast Transport) catamaran vessel and then won a place in the 52-ship LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) project, based on the trimaran hull, in which the final 20 ships will be evolved into frigates.

Bellamy says the path to the lucrative US defence industry market took a decade and was paved with unique IP, attention to high quality work and a preparedness to upscale production for export contracts. Austal built a new shipyard at Mobile, Alabama and now employs 4000 people in what Bellamy calls a 21st century shipyard for a 21st century ship.

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