Swiftly Redefining Tomorrow’s Navies Today
Swiftships is cutting through the military waters of global competition with ease, having secured a backlog of over $500 million in awards on high-profile international programmes within the last 12 months. CEO Shehraze Shah provided Andy Probert with a detailed update of the latest orders that could yield multi-year revenue visibility of more than $4.3 billion.
Swiftships is locked, loaded and ready to roll on a range of high-profile military watercraft contracts, which will be pushing the boundaries of technology and strengthening navies on different continents. Morgan City, Louisiana-based Swiftships is a leading international OEM of small-to medium-sized ships with expertise in design and build, integration, kitting, co-production and maintenance of naval and commercial platforms. As much as Swiftships’ portfolio of vessels is in high demand, its 35m fast patrol vessel (FPV) remains an enduring option. This is due to its high-performance capabilities with the advancement of armament and sensor packages making it the most lethal and nimble coastal combatant in the world.
“Swiftships is well positioned to benefit from attractive sector dynamics, significant domestic and international defence budget growth and increased demand for naval assets,” declared CEO Shehraze Shah. “This has been due to the heightened US interest in the maritime sector and increased military investment in ship-building, with significant demand for advanced systems and autonomous technologies.” He emphasised: “Since last year, Swiftships has secured a backlog of over $500 million in awards on high-profile international pro-grammes that will provide significant multi-year revenue visibility with more than $4.3 billion in potential sales opportunities. “Swiftships has identified over $1 billion in its high-confidence closure over the next three to five-year period.”
In 2018, Swiftships’ milestones revolved around its programme awards in the area of shipbuilding, kits sales, co-production efforts overseas and its service life extension programme (SLEP) and follow-on technical support (FOTS) efforts. Firstly, the US Naval (USN) Sea Systems Command ordered two extra Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 1700 vessels (1701 and 1702) under a $26.7 million contract modification. With its LCU 1700 amphibious landing craft, Swiftships had previously clinched an order to build 32 vessels by May 2021 as replacements for the USN’s entire 1600-class fleet, which dates back to the 1950s. LCU 1700 will be a similarly rugged steel craft, which will recapitalise the LCU 1600’s capabilities and have a design life of 30 years. The new vessel will be a highly reliable and fuel-efficient heavy lift platform whose capability will be complementary to the faster air cushion landing craft, which has a significantly shorter range, smaller payload capacity, no habitability and operating hour limitations. The new LCU 1700 class will be 42.4m long with a displacement of 434.9 metric tonnes. It will have a range of 1,200 nautical miles at 8 knots and a crew of 13. They will be capable of transporting two M1A1 tanks or 350 combat troops or 400 persons or 170 short tonnes of cargo. Mr Shah said other navies had expressed an interest in this particular platform and Swiftships was liaising with the USN’s Program Office PMS-377 (Amphibious Warfare Program Office) to begin production in April 2019 and use the model in connection with negotiations with international partners. Meantime, Swiftships is engaged on the US Army’s LCU 2000 SLEP, which is aimed at extending the platform for another 20 years.
The US Army’s landing craft provide transportation of personnel and materiel, delivering cargo from advanced bases and deep-draft strategic sealift ships to harbours, inland waterways, remote and unimproved beaches and coastlines, in addition to denied or degraded ports. Mr Shah explained: “The service’s venerable LCU 2000 vessels are expected to provide a portion of this capability well beyond this decade. To that end, Swiftships is under contract to complete SLEP activities on three out of four LCU 2000s for the US Army under Phase 1 work. “LCU 2026 is being finalised for delivery to the Army this May. In October 2018, the US Army decided to store LCU 2006 until the funds were appropriated for this craft, for either a full or partial SLEP. Finally, LCU 2017 is in the middle of the SLEP effort, with expected completion in the fall of 2019.” The SLEP scope of work on this contract includes cycle conditional maintenance; replacement of engine, generator, bow thruster engine, emergency generator and switchboard; and many other system replacement and repair activities. The task also incorporates condition-found defects and replenishment of the areas where defects exist. Mr Shah added: “This includes hull bottom, piping and other portions of the craft. Engineering changes and improvements on the vessels are also performed as required by the client.
“In all, the SLEP will extend the service life by a minimum of 20 years. Caterpillar Defense, LeBlanc, Oil States, Advanced AC and Trident Marine Systems are some of the key industry players supporting Swiftships’ LCU 2000 SLEP programme.” Swiftships has expanded its capabilities for this LCU contract by acquiring a dry dock for the berthing of the vessel under SLEP and hiring specific support personnel, including a dock master and two dedicated US Army (retired) programme managers. “Swiftships is looking forward to ‘slepping’ the Army’s additional LCU 2000s during Phase 2 with an added 20 vessels, both continental US (CONUS) and out of CONUS.” Mr Shah added that Swiftships has been working very closely with an autonomous system provider to integrate unmanned capability into its stellar platforms ranging from 175ft to 220ft for longer missions. Recently, a Swiftships-built vessel was selected by the USN on Program Overlord (Phase 1). Swiftships is also working very closely with both the USN and integrators to provide an unprecedented solution, where weight and range are the main factors of competition. Swiftships’ ownership of design and years of experience servicing oil and gas platforms give it the unique edge over other shipbuilders. “As a result, Swiftships is opening up its New Iberia facility to expand shipbuilding activity to meet the continued demand for its military platform in the Middle East,” revealed Mr Shah. The company is also on contract to convert a US Air Force parasail vessel into an Osprey landing platform and has also been awarded an Air Force contract to overhaul the 36m missile retriever-class.
Middle East and the World
Swiftships is also building two 35m FPVs for the Royal Bahrain Naval Force at the Morgan City yard. Equipped with one Aselsan 25mm STOP stabilised naval gun system and one FLIR (forward looking infra-red) M500 stabilised camera, the fast patrol boats are capable of surviving in sea state 6 and can reach speeds of up to 35 knots. Delivery of the vessels is expected by 2020. The company is also deeply entrenched providing support on the Iraqi Navy’s Follow-On Technical Support (FOTS) programme, which maintains the Iraqi fleet at Umm Qasr Naval Base through continuous life cycle support. The contract, costing $150 million, includes a ship repair facility in Iraq to include procurement of spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training equipment and engineering and logistics support services. This long-standing relationship with Iraq could eventually realise an upgrade of the country’s 35m patrol boats, built by Swiftships, to a 45m missile boat programme. Meanwhile, Swiftships is engaged in providing 28m coastal patrol crafts for Egypt, of which four out of eleven are complete, and in 2019 another three will be commissioned under Swiftships’ supervision in its co-production partnership with the Egyptian Navy. Swiftships is also about to start Egypt’s 35m patrol craft requirement – transitioning from a steel hull to an aluminium hull – to provide the fast response called for by the nation. Mr Shah confirmed the company was also in Pakistan to build a 45m steel FPV at the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works as part of a joint venture. This comes on the heels of a 2017 order announcement by Pakistan for two 75m Corvettes from Swiftships, with an option for two more in 2020. Further contracts include working with the Hong Kong Police Force on building a platform portfolio, with the Vietnam Navy and coast guard to upgrade some of their smaller platforms, with St Lucia to construct a 25m coastal (fast) patrol craft, and with Ecuador for a similar vessel. It is also working with Lockheed Martin to put the 35m FPV plan together – with four Lockheed Martin-built frigates based on the company’s US Navy Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship – for the Royal Saudi Navy. These will be built in the country under a build-operate-transfer programme. Swiftships is also working with other Middle East navies, and awaiting confirmation on an 85m platform for the Kuwait Naval Force. Swiftships continues to specialise in the construction of small to medium-sized vessels made with top-quality steel, aluminium or fibreglass. It has 126 proprietary designs, and 638 proven hulls recognised across the globe that collectively provide Swiftships with the versatility to supply vessels for both military and commercial applications. Such vessels were a boon for oil companies in the 1970s, but the company diversified towards military needs in the late 1980s. It now employs more than 250 full-time employees and has employed up to 2,000 personnel 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. Mr Shah noted that challenges remain. “Swiftships and the military industry have suffered majorly due to certain policies towards foreign military-funded programmes. Also, foreign military sales programme execution delays have put a strain on the current production levels within the industry.”
However, Swiftships’ stellar record and its strong brand recognition in the Middle East, North Africa and South East Asia make it stand out from its competitors. “Swiftships’ high-profile wins and effective operational management give its clients comfort, and its top-line growth with enhanced profitability allows suppliers to support its unique portfolio growth,” commented the CEO. Its wide footprint and unique relationships make Swiftships well-positioned to support Gulf Council Coalition (GCC) offset and localisation objectives. Additionally, the company is well aligned with GCC countries’ offset requirements in areas that generally achieve higher offset credit multiples compared to other product portfolios. Swiftships continues working diligently to put its vision and values into practice and expects all employees to share the company’s heritage and passion towards social sustainability. “Swiftships is driven by innovation. We are always looking for new ways to help our clients meet the evolving challenges of global sustainability and to drive positive change in many of the sectors in which we operate,” stated Mr Shah. “To reduce social impacts in our community, Swiftships invests heavily in the training and development of its staff to ensure they have the right skills and competencies that will help us create a world fit for future generations. “Swiftships has even trained ‘burger flippers’ to become fitters, welders and leaders by pairing them with a social-responsibility champion, dedicated to improving the sustainability of the company and its most important assets – our employees.” He concluded: “We pride ourselves on providing a working environment that engages our employees and allows great ideas to thrive.”