In the Shipyard
Former FFG49 Robert Bradley gets a new Lease on Life with the Royal Bahrain Navy
When Joe Fabian graduated from SUNY Maritime in 2016, little did he know that just six years later he’d be a Ship Superintendent, running a Foreign Military Sales repair and refit job at one of the country’s top shipyards. Today, Fabian, and the entire Detyens Shipyards team work to get the former U.S. Navy ship FFG49 Robert Bradley in top shape for transfer to the Royal Bahrain Navy.
By Greg Trauthwein
Joe, when you graduated from SUNY Maritime in 2016, did you have any inkling that your career path would have you running foreign military sales ship repair projects just six years later?
No, absolutely not. When I graduated Maritime, I came across Detyens Shipyards, and since the first time I came here for an interview, I found it to be an amazing company and group. I always wanted to move down south and get out of New York, and coming down to work for this company has been a dream come true.
So what attracted you to the position at Detyens, and what's kept your interest over the last six years?
Here you go from job to job, and you deal with different aspects of ships and repairs; different systems, different customers. Every project, every ship, every job is different, and I was never a guy for complacency, I never really wanted to be doing the same thing five days a week.
We're here to just discuss Detyens Shipyards work on the former Navy ship, the FFG-49, Robert Bradley for the Royal Bahrain Navy. Can you give an overview of the project?
Outside of Detyens' scope, this project has been in the works for many years. From our aspects, we were awarded the contract in August of 2021, and we got the ship on site here in March of 2022. Today we're in the middle (of the project) as it's going to be about a nine- to 10-month package.
I'm sure price is always a big factor on these foreign military sales jobs, but aside from price, what do you see as some of the key differentiators that helped land the deal?
Price is always a factor. [But on jobs like this, experience counts] and Detyens has experience doing foreign military sales. [Part of it] is the ability to house that foreign military, sometimes upwards of 200 sailors. And then with Detyens, our subcontractors plus our local vendors, we have so much to offer to accomplish a project like this.
Is there anything particularly unique about this project from a technical spec as required by the Bahrain Navy?
There were a couple things that piqued my interest when I first got the work scope. One of them is they're replacing the rubber sonar dome with a composite dome, so that includes a lot of work to provide new mounting plates for the new dome. One of the bigger things is they wanted to paint every tank on the vessel. So all of the fuel tanks are getting painted, something not a custom in U.S. military or on the commercial side. But it's something that they wanted, and we said, "No problem, we can make that happen.”
So where are you today on the project, and what do you consider to be the most technically challenging part of the job?
I think the hardest part of this whole job is just the environment that we're in right now, with issues getting material. It’s an older ship with older systems, and it’s tougher to get parts. That's always the difficult part of these foreign military sale projects. We've really had to expand from local to more regional vendors to find parts, and it has come down to manufacturing things that normally we wouldn't manufacture. We've pushed that envelope in that regard, and in the end, it's made us better as a company.
I understand that there are four entities involved in this project cradle to grave. Can you give a brief overview of the four, with insights on each's role in the project?
Detyens is technically a subcontractor of VSE, the primary contractor for this job. VSE is in charge of all the work that happens; certain jobs will come to the shipyard; other things the ship's force will do. NAVSEA is the U.S. Navy side of things, and they work closely with VSE and the Royal Bahrain Navy.
At the end of the day, all of us sit at the table to discuss the difficulties we have, the things we want to get done, and as a team, we all collectively get those things done. It's good because each entity has different assets that they can pull from, and that's what helps to expedite this project, and move it along. Having this collective resource helps give them the product that they want, the product that they bought. Key to a successful foreign military sale project is that experience and those relationships.
Speaking of experience with foreign military sales, do you personally have experience running FMS contracts previously?
Actually, the first job I ever worked here at Detyens was a foreign military sale of two frigates for Taiwan. Same ship, same class of ship that we're working on right now with the Bradley, but it was two ships. I was thrown right into the middle of it, and I picked up a ton of the knowledge from those jobs. That job really helped me to get to where I am today.
That job, too was start to finish, deactivation to reactivation. One ship came from Hawaii, the other ship came from Philadelphia, so they both had their unique types of difficulties. With the ship from Philadelphia [and the cold weather] you had a lot of cracked pipes [for example]. The ship coming from the warm weather had less cracked pipes, but other problems you’d expect in a ship [coming from the warm water Pacific].
As you just discussed, all customers, all jobs in the maritime space are unique in some way, shape, or form. Can you discuss some of the major similarities and differences between running commercial versus military projects?
There's a big difference between commercial and military. Military is more of a baseline of: “here's the scope of work, here's the timeframe to get it done.”
On the commercial side, they'll enter the yard with a certain scope of work, [and then that scope of work will expand once it’s in the yard]. But the timeline doesn't get pushed, they just want to get the work done a little quicker. It's more of a monetary aspect, and we understand we have to be a little quicker on the job, quicker getting them back out so that they can make money.
But at the end of the day, it's all ship repair, it's all stuff that we're capable of, it's all stuff that we've done before. [Regardless of if it’s a commercial or a military job], we want to get them out of here on time, under budget.
While Joe Fabian, Ship Superintendent, has climbed the company responsibility ladder quickly and helped to deliver many ships back to their owners during his six years at Detyens Shipyards, arguably his most important delivery to date was in June 2022 with the arrival of he and his wife’s first child, a daughter.