Swiftly going places where others fear
Revolutionising shallow water, fast vessels have enabled Swiftships to become the go-to boat manufacturer for military, naval and commercial operators around the world. Its many designs, hulls and innovations are still considered world class to this day. Profile by Andy Probert.
It’s a fair observation that very few US businesses involved in the Vietnam War effort emerged with their reputations unscathed. But if anything, it is where Swiftships enhanced its own and, through its designs, revolutionised global river warfare at a stroke.
Getting there had actually begun at the tail end of World War II when Fred Sewart founded Sewart Seacraft, Swiftships’ predecessor. Shallow watercraft had up to that point been designed with wood and steel. Fred opted for welded aluminium, and so began its fascinating rise.
Swiftships’ predecessor endowed its presence as a military contractor after the delivery of 193 patrol boats, affectionately known as The Swift Boat for the US Navy during the Vietnam conflict after the military had found the boats were faster and more versatile in shallow waters for river warfare.
Ironically, Swiftships was born out of its own minor conflict. When it was taken over by another company, several workers and engineers opted to walk away and in 1969 set up Swiftships as it is still known today.
Swiftships continues to specialise in the construction of small to medium sized vessels made with top quality steel, aluminium or fibreglass.
Its 126 proprietary designs and 638 proven hulls recognised across the globe provide Swiftships with the versatility to supply vessels for both military and commercial applications.
Such vessels were a boon for the oil industry in the 1970s and with the ups and downs in this market, the company diversified towards military needs in the late 1980s. Swiftships now employs more than 250 full-time employees and has worked up to 2,000 employees at its peak in six shipyards.
Swiftships has continued to expand its reach towards the defence industry by providing vessels for 52 foreign governments. Its goal is to continue to deliver top quality vessels to clients by combining innovative products and comprehensive service and training capabilities.
All-in-one shallow water vessel provider
The company, led by CEO Shehraze Shah, comprises in-house design, construction and commissioning, customisation, in-depth vessel operation and maintenance training programs, in-country support, and integrated logistics.
Recent stand-out contracts include the delivery of twelve 35m patrol boats to the Iraq Navy in 2014 and six 28m vessels to the Egyptian Government through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program with the US Navy, with four of those vessels co-produced in Alexandria, Egypt, utilising Egyptian labour.
In 2016, Swiftships secured orders for 11 additional 28m vessels, five through a US Government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract and six with national funds from Egypt through a Direct Commercial Sale. It was also awarded a Follow-On Technical Support (FOTS) contract from the US Navy (2014 – present) for the sustainment of the Iraq naval fleet and ship maintenance in Um-Qasr, Iraq.
Within the past five years, Swiftships has also delivered two 25m steel tug boats, two 54m aluminium fast supply vessels (FSV), one 64m aluminium FSV, and two 45m support and maintenance vessels to several US and foreign commercial clients.
Mr Shah commented the company is expanding its FOTS business in several countries and co-production efforts in several regions. This effort along with several new build projects that include multiple 25m, 28m, 35m, 45m and 75m military craft for various countries in South America, MENA, and Asia are in the 2017-2020 pipeline and progressing towards final contract award.
“Among its unique quality and rich heritage, Swiftships is known to expand with its commercial hulls into militarised vessels; it’s the only US company co-producing its’ vessels in other regions of the world,” said Mr Shah.
Louisiana-based Swiftships is also the only privately-held company in the world performing tasks in Iraq’s danger zone that are required by the end user.
These range from full construction of a dynamometer, overhaul of main engines and generators which require full subject matter expert oversight continuously on-site, overall maintenance and life cycle sustainment on various classes of vessels, and supply chain management for an entire navy.
Mr Shah commented: “Swiftships prides its employees as our greatest assets. At the crux of our business is a focus on cultivating and sustaining high-quality employees knowledgeable not only on all facets of shipbuilding such as engineering, marketing, government policies, customer relationships and finance, but also in international business development.
“Our employees understand the nature of our products being defence articles and services in nature. They understand our international business is linked to the US National and Defence security strategies.
“They also understand to be successful in this competitive international market; they need to be fully engaged with their counterparts in the principal government agencies such as State Department Pol-Mil, COCOMs (combat commands), Defence Security Cooperation, and the various Implementation Agencies.
“This engagement allows us to paint a picture of current and future growth and focus our international marketing efforts. To this end, 90% of company business is with foreign nations.”
Mr Shah said: “Our dedication is understanding the end user’s requirements and needs and then delivering the highest quality services and products for years.
“We are not afraid of difficult programs and have satisfied the most strenuous demands. Our diversity is what allows a force multiplier setting and sets our company apart from any others in the world and helps us build and sustain great relationships with our customers.”
Swiftships is always trying to find new solutions that provide the client with new technology and better total operating cost savings on their assets. This includes knowing what to provide on the vessels that will ensure a long service life.
Swiftships has recently launched the Anaconda, a Special Operation Craft Riverine, which is a diesel powered, all-aluminium vessel with twin water jet propulsors. Designed to operate in both salt and fresh water, Swiftships partnered with universities to establish what types of technology and equipment work best for an autonomous river assault craft.
“The autonomous operation of vessel’s technology – which we have recently tested and executed – provide our clients with a new and welcomed capability, an unmanned platform,” added Mr Shah.
“We feel that the three facets that show the most potential are co-production programs, mid to large size coastal and littoral vessels, and FOTS opportunities.”
The CEO added: “Swiftships is well suited to performing in any region where our multiple and versatile platforms can provide added value to our clients.
“And while foreign competition remains fierce and, sometimes, the playing field is not level due to low labour wages, we stand by our quality and support to maintain our business base. That has served us well for our entire existence.”