USS Ford On Track But Far From Finished (UPDATED)
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, fighting cost overruns and other speed bumps associated with it being the first in its class, recently reached a major milestone, said Matt Mulherin, Newport News Shipbuilding president.
CVN-78, as it is designated, is on track for a 2015 delivery, Mulherin told defense reporters April 17 at the Navy League’s annual symposium.
“The ship is almost at its total length,” Mulherin said. “We still have the bow section to go. The first piece of the flight deck is in place and the view from the Ford’s deck is quite a sight.”
Despite recent progress, the ship is only 38 percent complete, Rolf Bartschi, vice president for CVN-78 construction, said. Capt. Chris Meyer, the Navy’s future aircraft carrier program manager, said 90 percent of the Ford has been designed.
Most of the ship’s hangar bay is complete, but outside walls and other components must still be fitted before construction of the remainder of the deck can commence. The next phase, which will include installation of the island later this year, “goes pretty quickly,” Mulherin said.
But the ship, the first in a series of 10 planned Ford-class carriers, has experienced growing pains. Though the ship was designed to cut $5 billion from the total ownership cost over its 50-year service life, some systems have caused cost overruns and delays that have added nearly $1 billion to the ship’s price tag.
“Any time you have a ship that’s the first in its class, you’re going to learn these minor engineering things and we’ll fix those,” Mulherin said.
Going forward, the Navy might not be willing or able to accept as much risk in shipbuilding contracts as it has with the Ford, however, said Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander of Navy Sea Systems Command.
Industry will have to step up its game in staying on contract and keeping costs down, he said at the symposium. The Navy will not be able to afford projects that careen out of bounds like the Ford, which is about $884 million over budget, said McCoy.
“We are entering an era where when we issue a contract, we expect industry to live up to that contract,” McCoy said during a panel discussion on shoehorning future requirements into tight budgets. “We expect to pay a fair price. We expect industry to make a fair profit. But when we sign a contract, we expect to get what we pay for.”
Some of the design delays the Ford has experienced are the Navy’s fault, according to Meyer. The Navy is developing many of the technologies that will define the Ford class carriers, like the electromagnetic aircraft launching system.
“I still owe the shipbuilders information on some of those systems,” Meyer said. These government-furnished systems have put the brakes on some design efforts, but “we feel the costs are under control.”
“We’re not looking to see further growth [in cost] over the life of the ship,” he added.
For his part, Mulherin asserted that lessons learned from building the Ford are already being applied to CVN-79, the USS John F. Kennedy. The shipyard is under contract for preliminary design for that ship and is buying long lead-time materials for its construction.
“On day one, I’ll have the entire design done,” he said. “I’ll know exactly what I need to buy on day one. Then you can go back to suppliers and leverage buys to bring cost down.”
Huntington Ingalls, which owns Newport News Shipbuilding and also builds destroyers, nuclear submarines and cutters for the Navy and Coast Guard, anticipates growth in the shipbuilding business, said Irwin Edenzon, president of Ingalls Shipbuilding.
Ingalls employs a total of 15,500 workers, 13,000 of whom are located at its various Gulf Coast facilities where it builds DDG-51 Aegis guided missile destroyers and big-deck amphibious ships. Newport News Shipbuilding is the largest industrial employer in Virginia, with 20,000 workers at its yard.
Huntington Ingalls is planning to hire 20,000 employees over the next four years. Much of those hires will cover attrition of several hundred master shipbuilders who are expected to retire in coming years, he said. But Newport News Shipbuilding alone will hire a net increase of about 2,500 employees to compensate for an uptick in business.
The shipyard, which also performs mid-life refueling of carriers, is preparing to add yet another business sector to its portfolio when the USS Enterprise is deactivated beginning next year. The company anticipates an $800 million contract to deactivate the 50-year-old ship’s nuclear reactors, remove valuable components and prepare it to be towed to its place of retirement.