Over the past decade, the Multi-Agency Craft Conference has provided suppliers of small boats and associated equipment with direct access to military and other government buyers. The annual MACC show, which has included a series of keynote speeches and technical sessions, a small trade show and in-water demonstrations, has usually been held at the Navy’s Little Creek base in Norfolk, Va.
But getting all the military, security and organizational ducks lined up and approved has proven difficult the past few years. MACC was cancelled in 2010, held as scheduled in 2011, and then cancelled again this year.
The American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) in Alexandria, Va., helped organize the 2011 conference and was working on the 2012 event when it was cancelled earlier in the year. In its place, ASNE held a scaled-down substitute event in nearby Norfolk, Va., in late June called the High-Performance Craft Expo (HiPer Craft) 2012.
“The base of technology for high-performance boats moves faster than for ships,” said Ronald Kiss, ASNE president, explaining the decision to hold the expo this year.
Held in late June, the two-day conference focused primarily on government acquisitions and engineering topics. There was also a trade show and a few vessels available for demonstration. The motivation for most exhibitors was the opportunity to network with potential government customers and to learn where agencies like the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard are heading in the coming years.
“We need to be here in order to figure out whether there are major changes in acquisition programs. It might be that we will learn something that will cause us to rethink our strategy,” said Hans VanOekel, program manager with L3 Unidyne, a government contractor. At the conference, Unidyne, based in Virginia Beach, Va., announced it was bidding on a multiyear contract to provide maintenance and logistical support to the Navy’s small boat fleet.
“We can show the Navy who our team members are for this bid,” said VanOekel, indicating a poster listing the partners. “And we are showing our competition that we are here.”
As it turned out, the Navy did use the conference to announce some procurement changes. Jean-Michel Coughlin, principal assistant program manager for the Navy’s PMS 325G group that is responsible for the procurement of small Navy boats, said that as high-performance boats have grown in complexity and cost, the old method of procuring boats on the GSA schedule is “showing its limitations.”
“Fifteen years ago, we were buying $250,000 boats. Today, there are $10.5 million boats,” said Coughlin.
MOVING AWAY FROM GSA
For some of the more complex boats, the Navy will now issue a request for proposals rather than simply requesting a quotation on a commercial off-the-shelf boat. Coughlin said this will give the government more flexibility in acquiring boats that have complicated requirements and it will open up competition to builders that are not listed on the GSA Schedule of approved vendors.
This procurement method, known as FAR Part 12, was used by the Coast Guard in awarding Jeanerette, La.-based Metal Shark Aluminum Boats a 500-boat contract to build its new response boat-small (RB-S). The boat is ubiquitous as the Coast Guard’s main harbor patrol and law enforcement vessel. Metal Shark had a prototype of the boat on display in the water at HiPer Craft 2012. The boat is 28’6″•8’6″ with a 20″ draft. It is powered by twin 225-hp Honda outboards and can run at 40 mph. The boat addresses what has become a major theme in high-performance craft design and construction: shock and vibration mitigation.
The RB-S contract, one of the largest purchases by the government of small boats, was hotly contested. In the end, finalists Metal Shark and SAFE Boats International, Port Orchard, Wash., were each given a contract to build one boat. Metal Shark was then awarded the contract.
“In this fiscal climate, competition among boatbuilders has become very fierce,” said Dean Jones, Metal Shark’s national sales manager. “There is very little wiggle room.”
Another highly competitive Coast Guard contract was the Long Range Interceptor. The redesigned LRI will be attached to the new National Security Cutters. Kingston, Ontario-based MetalCraft Marine Inc. and Edgewater, Fla.-based Brunswick Commercial and Government Products teamed up to win the $10 million, 10-boat LRI contract.
Notably absent from the HiPer Craft Expo were representatives from small law enforcement agencies and municipalities. Once flush with port security grant dollars, these groups are now dealing with serious cutbacks in funding that leave little room for new vessels. Instead, according to Jim Taylor, territory manager for Cummins Marine, these customers are looking to extend the life of existing vessels.
“We have had several inquiries about repowering with our newest engines,” said Taylor, who was showcasing the Quantum Series QSB6.7. The high-performance diesel can run on alternative fuels like kerosene or JP8. This makes it an attractive option for operators in remote theaters. The turbocharged 24-valve cylinder head pushes power density by delivering 473 hp at 3,300 rpm. And at 1,398 lbs., the QSB6.7 is addressing another of the military buyers’ chief demands — less weight.
MetalCraft Marine’s Bob Clark said that while some funding may be diminished, builders are not seeing the downturn that they had braced for.
“We were all expecting a downturn, but instead I think we are seeing a shifting in resources among government agencies,” he said. “Groups that had little access to funding during the height of the wars are now able to look at replacing boats.”
LESS WEIGHT, SPEEDIER
Lighter and faster is the mantra in the world of high-performance craft. Add to that fuel efficiency.
Military engineers and others at the expo have also been facing budget cuts. This has led the military to look at boat acquisitions not just from the perspective of the building cost but also “total ownership cost” — how much the boat will cost to maintain over time along with fuel and training costs. While these factors add 10-15 percent to the cost of a boat, significant savings can be accrued over time.
Two companies took the opportunity to introduce new boats at the conference and provide in-water demonstrations. One boat was the Interdictor I44, a diesel patrol boat produced as a joint venture between Cape Canaveral, Fla.-based Falcon Marine and Concept Boats, the Miami go-fast boatbuilder. The 41’3″×10’8″ Interdictor has a 2′ draft. Showing its offshore racing pedigree, the boat is powered by twin Cummins QFC600 diesels matched with twin Arneson ASD 10 drives that push the boat to 55 knots with a range of 500 nautical miles.
Also debuting was Annapolis, Md.-based Ocean Craft Marine’s M-Series 9.5-meter RIB. The interdiction and boarding craft can hit 68 mph.
“The 9.5M VI-BTD with its completely blacked-out visual appearance, super-quiet twin 300-hp Mercury Verado supercharged engines and a shock-mitigated console with both a low-profile and oblique angled leading edge, make for an extremely stealthy and agile package on the water,” said Todd Salus, OCM’s vice president.
Unlike some other vendors, Salus was not dissapointed with a lower turnout than at previous MACC shows.
“We are one of the only boats giving demonstrations, so it works well for us,” he said.
Looking ahead, the Navy will have a few new opportunities to offer to boatbuilders, according to program manager Coughlin. First is the creation of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, which brings together all the Navy expeditionary forces under a single umbrella. Anti-terrorist operations, force protection and maritime civil affairs will require new, longer-range boats like the Mark VI, a new generation patrol boat being built by SAFE.
Older boats must also be replaced. Small high-performance craft only have a seven- to 10-year lifecycle.
Also, the Obama administration has signaled its intention to focus resources in the waterway laden Asia-Pacific region. And, Coughlin added, “MACC will be back next year … we hope.”