Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding has started construction of the U.S. Navy’s third Gerald R. Ford -class aircraft carrier, which will be called Enterprise (CVN-80). CVN-80 will be the ninth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name Enterprise, a lineage that has included legendary vessels such as the World War II-era CV-6 and the nuclear-powered CVN-65.
To kickoff the start of construction, Newport News workers began by cutting the 35-ton steel plate, which will eventually form part of the new carrier. “With this ship, we will ‘boldly go where no one has gone before,’” HII Newport News Shipbuilding president Jennifer Boykin said. “She will be built using digital technology rather than traditional paper work packages and drawings. We will build more of this ship indoors, in new facilities so that our people have more opportunities to work under cover and out of the weather. CVN 80 will revolutionize how we build ships, just as her predecessor, CVN 65—the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier—revolutionized our industry.”
The Navy has not technically awarded a contract to start building Enterprise, instead Newport News is working under an advance fabrication contract that was awarded to the company earlier this year. A formal contract award for Enterprise’s detail design and construction is expected next year in 2018.
Newport News is currently building the second Ford-class carrier, the future John F. Kennedy (CVN 79). According to the company, Kennedy is currently more than 50 percent structurally complete. Compared to the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the new ships should cost less and require fewer man-hours to build.
HII has significantly reduced the number of man-hours needed on this second carrier.“There is a pretty significant reduction of man-hours between Ford and Kennedy,” Mike Petters, president and chief executive officer of Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) told investors earlier this month. “It is bigger than anything we’ve ever seen before. We did take that reduction in the target.”
Petters explained that HII expects to reduce the man-hours on Kennedy because of the experience gained building Ford. That first ship was in some ways a prototype. “The first ship of a class is a prototype,” Petters said. “And we talked about how the first production unit is the prototype and how that’s different than a lot of folks who build prototypes and then go to production after they build the prototypes.”
The Ford-class design in now set—which mean a stable set of blueprints. “As we went into Ford, we were operating for the first time. We were operating with a digital design and a 3D product model. But it was not complete when we started that ship,” Petters said.
Because the design is now stable, costs should start to come down. “As we started the Kennedy, the model was complete. When we started the Ford, as we went through that project, the bill of material because the design wasn’t complete, the bill of material wasn’t complete. And so as we go into Kennedy, not only is the design complete but the bill of material is complete. Those two factors alone will drive reductions in the cost of the program that we think are fairly significant.”
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest . You can follow him on Twitter: @Davemajumdar.