In an effort to help struggling shipyards and aircraft manufacturers, the Pentagon is ordering each branch of the military to steer more maintenance work to private defense contractors next year.
James R. Klugh, chief of logistics at the Defense Department, directed the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corp and the Army to draw up plans to boost the amount of work done in the private sector to 40 percent."This year, the percentage was well below that," he wrote in a memo to deputy chiefs of staff at each of the services. He called for plans to ''achieve and maintain" the amount of private work at a 40 percent ceiling set by federal law.
The directive is expected to make more maintenance jobs available to struggling private shipyards nationwide, possibly by making more ship overhauls available for such companies as Todd Shipyards in Seattle or General Dynamics in Groton, Conn.
U.S. aerospace contractors such as Boeing Co., whose commercial divisions have been wrestling with a worldwide downturn in the airline industry, also would find more defense work available.
In his memo, Mr. Klugh wrote that the downsizing of the military and the private industry infrastructure that has traditionally supported it has made it necessary to reconsider ways to avoid the loss of an industrial base. The memo was sent to branches of the armed forces involved in shipbuilding. The Journal of Commerce obtained a copy.
Studies done in the last few months documented a need for a new emphasis on Defense Department support of defense industries, he wrote.
Mr. Klugh said that shipyard and other private contractors have said that more military maintenance work is "sorely needed", and that it would make sense to steer work to private yards that can't be done at downsized military facilities.
Earlier this month, he asked each branch of the military to present plans on ways to boost the amount of work being done in the private sector to 40 percent, but the Pentagon said the services asked for more time to consider the problem.
"No plans were actually presented," said Glenn Flood, a Defense Department spokesman. "Everyone talked about it, then went back to the drawing board."
Mr. Flood said some branches of the military are drafting proposals on how more work might be done in the private sector, but he said none of them has been made public.
Roland Webb, vice president and general manager at Todd Shipyards in Seattle, said the 40 percent standard would result in a "massive increase" in the amount of Navy work available to private yards.
Such a move would be particularly beneficial to shipyards in the Puget Sound region, he said, because those yards are closest to the Navy's new homeport at Everett, Wash., where 14 Navy ships will be assigned.
"This would be an extremely positive thing for all of the shipyards, not just Todd," he said.
Dave Suffia, a spokesman for Boeing Defense and Space Group, said Boeing strongly supports the shift of work to the private sector.
"It's still a very dangerous world out there," he said. "You can't just
put engineers on the shelf for five years and let your private-sector support for the military become so depleted that you can't respond to a Desert Storm or Somali situation - you have to recognize the need to maintain some level of competence."