Naval and Commercial Shipbuilding have many similarities which has enabled the commercial yards to embark on challenging Naval Shipbuilding programs to take advantage of the huge business opportunities associated with it. The cost of building a Naval Ship is normally huge and so are the risks associated with it. There are several elements of construction and design aspects which are similar and complementary in the construction of a Commercial and a Naval ship. However it is necessary for the commercial yards to understand the critical areas of differences which needs to be focused to mitigate the risks which are normally associated with the Naval Shipbuilding.
The areas of differences in Naval and Commercial Shipbuilding can be identified right from the conceptual stage to the commissioning stage of the ship building program. Commercial ships are normally build based on a patented or approved design of a particular class of ships meeting the requirements of the customer. These designs may be reused as it is or else it may be used with some minor changes. This approach not only reduces the cost of acquisition of commercial ships but also enables the ship’s construction to be planned and progressed with a mature design, meaning no or very little re-work with very small possibility of schedule and cost overruns. On the contrary the Naval Programs are characterized by customer demands for ambitious functionalities which are predominantly based on the state of the art technology emerging out of the research and development stages. More often than not the warship production and the system development runs concurrently which eventually leads to the implementation of an under developed system or increased acquisition cost and schedule delays in the final commissioning of the ship.
One of the general misconceptions about the Commercial ships is that they are weaker in less durable as compared to the war ships. From the current industry standards and practices for Commercial Shipbuilding, it can be seen that some of the Commercial ships are now built with capability to operate in much severe weather and risky conditions to meet the operational requirements. However the amount of redundancy which is imbibed in the designs of a commercial ship is still lesser as compared to that for the warships. This not increases the weight of a Naval ship but also makes it very much expensive as compared to a Commercial vessel.
The life expectancy of a Commercial ship is normally lesser as compared to that of a Naval ship. A Naval ship is built to serve for several decades more than that of a merchant vessel. Periodic Refits are planned throughout the life cycle of the Naval ship not only to strengthen the structure but also to ensure that the equipment systems onboard are upgraded to keep pace with the advances in the technology.
Another key area of difference is the decision making process involved in the building of these ships. In the case of commercial ships the power to make important decisions rests mainly with a small group of owners/ owner’s representatives and hence the process of decision making is generally quicker. Whereas in the case of a Naval ship, the key decisions are taken by the empowered group involving uniformed personal, bureaucrats and the politicians. As the warships are built from the tax payers money, a lot of time is spend in deliberations and for following the procedures associated with the government machineries.
The opportunities and business volume in Naval shipbuilding is huge and steadily growing to certain extend. However the global financial crises have forced the governments of many countries to implement measures to reduce the cost overruns in the defence programs- especially that of warship acquisitions. It is therefore more prudent for the commercial yards embarking in to the Naval Shipbuilding to understand the differences in the commercial and Naval ship building practices and come up with solutions which are not only economical but also meets the specific requirements of these programs.