The United States Navy is hoping to buy two Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers under a single contract in hopes that such a plan will save money on the massive 100,000-ton vessels. As such, the Navy has released a two-ship buy Request for Proposal to Huntington Ingalls Industries – Newport News Shipbuilding for CVN-80 and ACVN-81 in the hopes that such a contract will cut the cost of the $12.9 billion warships.
"In keeping with the National Defense Strategy, the Navy developed an acquisition strategy to combine the CVN 80 and CVN 81 procurements to better achieve the Department's objectives of building a more lethal force with greater performance and affordability," James F. Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Research Development and Acquisition, said in a March 19 statement. "This opportunity for a two-ship contract is dependent on significant savings that the shipbuilding industry and government must demonstrate. The Navy is requesting a proposal from HII-NNS in order to evaluate whether we can achieve significant savings."
According to the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the service has been working with the contractor over the past several months to estimate how much the taxpayer could save by combining the CVN-80 and CVN-81 buy into a single contract.
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“The two-ship buy is a contracting strategy the Navy has effectively used in the 1980s to procure Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and achieved significant acquisition cost savings compared to contracting for the ships individually,” NAVSEA said in a statement. “While the CVN 80/81 two-ship buy negotiations transpire, the Navy is pursuing contracting actions necessary to continue CVN 80 fabrication in fiscal year (FY) 2018 and preserve the current schedule. The Navy plans to award the CVN 80 construction contract in early FY 2019 as a two-ship buy pending Congressional approval and achieving significant savings.”
The two-ship would not impact the USS Gerald Ford (CVN-78), which has already been delivered and commissioned into service, nor would it help to reduce the price of the future USS John F. Kennedy. However, the new contracting mechanism could help reduce the price tag of the future USS Enterprise (CVN-80) and CVN-81, which has not yet been given a name.
As its stands right now, Kennedy will replace USS Nimitz (CVN-68) after she runs out of fuel at the end of her 50-year life span. Enterprise will replace USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) while CVN-81 will replace USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) when the time comes. And because it takes so long to build an aircraft carrier, the Navy has already started advanced planning and initial long-lead-time material procurement of Enterprise in May 2016.
The Navy could eventually build as many as 10 Ford-class carriers if the service fully realizes its long-range plans.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.