Building an Efficient, Modern Shipyard

Henry Nardone: Started in 1959; Retired as Director of the Trident Program

henry1In the early days we were building submarines sort of one-of-a-kind. It wasn’t until the late ’50s and early ’60s that a program was big enough to integrate the design, the construction, the follow-on of a design, and provide the right kind of facilities.

Facilities cost a lot of money and you had to have a program big enough to spread the cost over many ships. You’ve got to standardize. There’ve got to be certain limitations. Some of the old guys who were there and lived their whole lives with the piecework, some of them never did buy it.

The 1960s were a tough time for us. We were building some ships to a Portsmouth design that didn’t work out too well. The Thresher. We didn’t have the best relationship with the government, the government being Admiral Rickover. He was taking things away from EB. We were struggling to get things back and run the shipyard.

EB really took the lead in what was called the SUBSAFE program. It solved the problems that were illuminated by the loss of the Thresher. It included all-welded seawater joints. Better control of seawater valves. Radiography of castings to make sure there were no defects. Our performance helped solidify EB as the nuclear yard.

For a while, Electric Boat consisted of a conglomeration of fiefdoms. Everybody had his own little kingdom and his own team. There was always tremendous competition, at least philosophically, between engineering, planning and the shipyard. That changed over time.

Eventually we took some of the best people in engineering and put them down into the yard. Right down there in the trenches with the troops. Two of our recent presidents – Mike Toner and John Casey – came out of that program.