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Nonetheless, U.S. government agencies can assist U.S. shipbuilders in reestablishing themselves technically in international markets in several ways.
Government can provide better support for "front-end" technologies in product design, product modeling, process modeling, simulation, and costing, all of which are useful to shipbuilders in marketing. These technologies represent the areas of greatest lag between U.S. shipbuilders and their international competitors. Providing help in these areas is the thrust of the Maritime Systems Technology program in Advanced Research Projects Agency. With increased emphasis on the areas of greatest need—for example, by requiring viable business plans for all Maritime Systems Technology projects—the Maritime Systems Technology program should run its course.
Continued support for shipyard production and design technology improvements is also needed for parity with foreign shipbuilders. Although such improvements will likely have only a modest effect in gaining market share, they are still needed for U.S. production costs to be competitive.
The Maritime Administration should continue to serve and should even expand its role as an informed commentator on the industry's effort to become an international player. The Maritime Administration can collect and combine the information gathered by other U.S. government agencies to provide the industry with a better perspective on its competitive position. More useful still, the Maritime Administration could provide a technical assessment of international yards to give the U.S. shipbuilding industry a better picture of the gaps it must overcome. Most important, the Maritime Administration could monitor as accurately as possible the many ways—both direct and indirect—foreign governments subsidize their shipbuilding industries.
Perhaps the most important assistance the U.S. government as a whole could provide would be the procurement of noncombatant ships to commercial specifications using commercial acquisition methods. Although this approach may not be practical for all noncombat ships, their procurement represents the largest single U.S. shipbuilding budget and has the greatest potential for improving overall U.S. shipbuilding performance.
The naval architecture and marine engineering educational system plays an essential but longer-term role in supporting U.S. reentry into the international market by contributing to basic understanding of design, materials, and new production processes. The Office of Naval Research has been a major supporter of the educational structure at the graduate level for many years. This support continues to be necessary for the funding of faculty, Navy projects, and fellowships; however, the educational establishment must become more concerned about the economics of the shipbuilding industry. Little study has been done on the economics of various technologies, even as U.S. shipbuilders are now seriously pressed to reduce labor hours, shorten delivery times, and improve precision to compete in worldwide commercial shipbuilding. For its part, the shipbuilding industry should support the naval architecture and marine engineering