U.S. ship maker Huntington Ingalls Industries – Newport News Shipbuilding (HII-NNS) was awarded a $14.9 billion contract by the US Navy for two nuclear-powered Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, the service announced in a statement on January 31. The Navy expects to save over $4 billion by bulk-buying two carriers, under one contract. U.S. Congress approved the block procurement in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act already; however, at that time HII-NNS had yet to meet the service’s cost-cutting requirements.
According to Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, focusing on optimizing construction activities and material procurement, the team was able to achieve significant savings as compared to individual procurement contracts.
One contract for construction of the two ships will enable the shipbuilder flexibility to best employ its skilled workforce to design once and build twice for unprecedented labor reductions while providing stability and opportunities for further efficiencies within the nuclear industrial base.
Earlier in January, US Senate Armed Services Committee member Tim Kaine confirmed that the US Navy intended to block-buy two Ford-class aircraft carriers.
The Ford-class supercarriers are expected to replace Nimitz-class carriers, which have served the US Navy for more than 40 years.
In June 2017, Huntington Ingalls Industries’ (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding division delivered the first Ford-class aircraft carrier, Gerald R Ford (CVN 78), to the US Navy following completion of acceptance trials in May. The USS Gerald R Ford was built at a cost of $13bn and commissioned in July 2017.
According to HII, the Ford-class carriers have a nuclear power plant, a redesigned island, electromagnetic catapults, and improved weapons movement, as well as an enhanced flight deck capable of increased aircraft sortie rates. The navy expects to spend around $43bn to build the first three ships in the class.
The announcement of the contract comes in the wake of a scathing report published by Pentagon’s testing office which said the lead ship in the class, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), demonstrated poor or unknown reliability of systems critical for flight operations including newly designed catapults, arresting gear, weapons elevators, and radar.
The report stated that the USS Gerald R. Ford would probably not achieve the sortie generation rate (SGR) (number of aircraft sorties per day) requirement, and would likely be short of berthing spaces. The berthing capacity is 4,660; more than 1,100 fewer than Nimitz-class carriers. Manning requirements for new technologies such as catapults, arresting gear, radar, and elevators are not yet determined and may require a return to standard manpower strategies.
What is more, the ship’s all new launch and recovery systems, the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), suffered ten failures each in over 700 shipboard launches and landings. “The reliability concerns are magnified by the current AAG design that does not allow electrical isolation of the Power Conditioning Subsystem equipment from high power buses, limiting corrective maintenance on below-deck equipment during flight operations,” the report said.
All the problems identified during the testing have pushed the ship’s first deployment to 2022 even though the USS Gerald R. Ford was commissioned in 2017.
Announcing the two-carrier construction deal, the statement from the Navy further stated that the contract includes ship integration costs of several modifications required to meet emerging threats. The modifications requested are for accommodating and integrating F-35C Lightning II, the carrier variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, MK-38 gun-system and MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aircraft system. These modifications represent an additional $100 million in savings that is in addition to the $4 billion, since these new capabilities were not included in the original single-CVN Navy estimate. Plus, these new savings associated with new capabilities increases to $200 million if installed in the ship before delivery, in comparison to installing after ship delivery.
Enterprise (CVN 80) is the third ship of the Ford-class and the numerical replacement for USS Eisenhower (CVN 69). CVN 81, not yet named, will be the fourth ship of the class and will be the numerical replacement for USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). CVN 80 began advanced planning and initial long lead time material procurement in May 2016.
The second ship in the class, future John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) is scheduled to be christened in the fourth quarter of 2019 and delivered to the US Navy in 2022.