Saturday, January 17, 2009
Just four months after receiving a $5.1 billion contract to built the lead ship of the Navy's next generation of aircraft carrier, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding received another lump of money to begin planning the ship following it. The Navy awarded the company a $373.5 million contract for design, advanced planning and procurement of certain parts for the yet-to-be-named carrier, known as CVN-79. The 21-month contract provides for research and development efforts with suppliers, and it allows for the purchase of materials that take years to produce, like machinery for the carrier's nuclear propulsion plant. By the end of the year, about 300 Northrop employees will be assigned to the carrier, which will be built in Newport News. The timing of the contract is "beneficial to both the Navy and our shipbuilders," said Mike Shawcross, Northrop's vice president of the Ford-class building program. The company's Newport News shipyard, the only one in the country to make nuclear-powered aircraft carriers for the Navy, is scheduled to lay the keel of the CVN-79 in 2013. The Navy plans to commission the carrier in 2019, four years after the service is scheduled to enter the first ship of the class, the Gerald R. Ford, into the fleet. Thursday's contract sends a clear signal that the Navy is committed to continuing to build carriers for the future fleet, but it provides money only for advanced planning on the ship. A full construction contract probably won't follow until at least 2012.If, the Navy and Congress opt to continue with the ship, its construction would add stability to Newport News' manufacturing base. At its peak in 2012-13, Northrop will have about 4,500 workers employed on the Ford. And as production would wind down on that ship, work on the CVN-79 would build, allowing Northrop to retain its experienced shipbuilders. Including advanced design work and initial acquisition costs, the Navy projects the price tag for the Ford to come in about $13.9 billion. Recurring costs for future Ford-class ships, including the CVN-79, will be about $8 billion. That $8 billion includes all government-furnished equipment, such as combat systems, radar and communications, and other new equipment. The Navy plans to build 11 Ford-class aircraft carriers, and construction is projected to continue through 2058. The Ford class will include many of the design features of the Nimitz class, but Northrop and the Navy have added several new technologies to the ships, including a new flight deck with an improved weapons handling system, advanced arresting gear to catch landing aircraft, a re-engineered launch system and a new nuclear propulsion plant design. The redesign will allow the Navy to increase the daily number of flights on and off the ship from 120 to about 160. Design changes also allow for about 700 fewer sailors required in the ship's company, resulting in significant cost savings for the Navy -- a key initiative being pushed by the service's leaders.