Future Carrier to Feature More Prebuilt Parts

CVN 79

The Navy and Newport News Shipbuilding are working on new shipbuilding methods and making early progress with initial construction of the second, next-generation Ford-class aircraft carrier slated to enter service in March 2023 — the John F. Kennedy, or CVN 79.

The construction strategy for the Kennedy, which is thus far only 6 percent built, is using a handful of techniques intended to lower costs and call upon lessons learned from the building of the first Ford-class carrier in recent years, the USS Gerald R. Ford. The Ford was christened in November, is now undergoing additional testing and slated to enter service in 2016.

The Navy was criticized by lawmakers and government watchdog groups during the construction of the Ford for its rising costs. As of last year, construction costs for the ship were estimated at $12.8 billion, several billion dollars above previous figures.

Navy officials point out that at least $3 billion of the Ford’s costs are due to what’s described as non-recurring engineering costs for a first-in-class ship such as this. Nevertheless, they say the service is making progress with efforts to lower costs for the Kennedy.

“Through lessons learned and an intense, focused effort to improve the way carriers are built, we are confident in substantial cost reduction on CVN 79,” Rear Adm. Thomas Moore, program executive officer for carriers, told Military.com in a written statement.

Newport News Shipbuilding, which is a subsidiary of Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., is now assembling the lower portions of the Kennedy under a construction preparation contract with the Navy.

The construction preparation contract affords the shipbuilder an opportunity to gather and purchase materials and parts for the ship while beginning initial assembly. Of the 1,128 total structural units that comprise the Kennedy, 654 of them are covered under the construction preparation contract, said Mike Shawcross, vice president of Kennedy carrier construction.

More than 230 structural units have already been completed on items such as pipe assemblies, cabling, shafts, rudders and struts, he said.
Newport News Shipbuilding is able to buy larger quantities of parts earlier in the construction process with the Kennedy because, unlike the circumstance during the building of the Ford, the Kennedy’s ship design is already completed, Shawcross explained.

In addition, one of the construction techniques for the Kennedy includes assembling compartments and parts of the ship before moving them to the dock, he said. Production lines have been started for groups of ship units that are similar, he said.

Construction begins with the bottom of the ship and works up with inner-bottoms and side shells before moving to box units, Shawcross explained. The bottom third of the ship gets built first.

As for the design, the Kennedy will be largely similar to the design of the Ford, with a few minor alterations. The aircraft elevators on the Kennedy will use electric motors instead of a hydraulic system to lower costs, Shawcross added.

Also, some of the design methods have changed such as efforts to fabricate or forge some parts of the ship instead of casting them because it makes the process less expensive, he said.

USS John F Kennedy CVN 79 People Working

The Kennedy will replace the USS Nimitz, which is due to retire by 2027; the Ford-class carriers are slated to replace the existing Nimitz-class carriers on a one-to-one basis in an incremental fashion over the next half century or so.

“We are moving towards a construction contract being awarded this year and anticipate that the Christening ceremony will take place in September of 2020, with a scheduled delivery to the fleet in March 2023,” Kennedy program manager Capt. Doug Oglesby said in a written statement.

Built with a host of new technologies to improve operational performance and efficiency over the existing Nimitz-class carriers, the Ford-class ships are engineered with slightly larger deck space to allow for a greater sortie rate, more computer automation to reduce the need for manpower and an electromagnetic catapult to propel jets off the deck an into the sky over the ocean.

The new electromagnetic catapult system and new advanced arresting gear are designed for smoother, safer and more efficient take-offs and landings compared to the steam catapults now used on today’s carriers.
Also, the Ford-class carriers are being built with three times the electrical power generating capacity compared to Nimitz-class carriers, Moore said.

The USS Ford will have four 26-megawatt generators bringing a total of 104 megawatts to the ship. This helps support the ship’s developing systems such as its Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, and provides power for future systems such as lasers, and rail-guns.

The ships are engineered with a redesigned island, slightly larger deck space and new weapons elevators in order to achieve a 33-percent increase in sortie-generation rate. The new platforms are built to launch more aircraft and more seamlessly support a high-op tempo, Navy officials said.

The new weapons elevators allow for a much more efficient path to move and re-arm weapons systems for aircraft. The elevators can take weapons directly from their magazines to just below the flight deck, therefore greatly improving the sortie-generation rate by making it easier and faster to re-arm planes.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Joe_Sovereign

    Improved missle technologies are going to make Carriers very vulnerable. Anti-ship weapons that can put a Carrier at risk are going to become cheaper while Carrier defense will require the development of very expensive new technology. It might be time to totally rethink force projection strategies.

  • Bill

    The last time a carrier was attacked was what, 1945? Nobody has seriously tried to damage a carrier. To my knowledge, nobody has seriously tested Anti-Ship Missile defenses. How about a BRAHMOS with dummy warhead vs. ESSM and SEARAM, installed on a ship ready for scrap?

  • Stan

    WTB: 3D printer large enough to accommodate aircraft carrier sections

  • Tad

    I wonder how long it will be untilt the EMALS and AAG work reliably. There have been land-based tests, but according to DOT&E, the failure rates have been very high. DOT&E’s report from February says there had been 201 chargeable failures out of 1,967 launch attempts with the EMALS, and 9 chargeable failures out of 71 attempted arrests with the AAG. And I would imagine that the failure rates would be at least this bad when the systems are incorporated on a ship.

    I don’t know how these technologies have progressed since this report was issued earlier this year. Hopefully they will be ready when the Kennedy is ready. The concurrent development approach to acquisitions has gotten us into a lot of trouble with the LCS and the F-35, though, and may be problematic for the Kennedy program, too. Perhaps someone with direct knowledge can comment?

  • Herb Smith

    They need to stop naming these ships after politicians and start naming them after actual military men. Kennedy, Bush and the Theodore Roosevelt are fine though.

    • Riceball

      Your comments kind of contradict what you’re saying, the majority of the Nimitz class carriers were named after military men. The only exceptions to this are the USS Carl Vinson, USS John C Stennins, and the USS Abraham Lincoln; the Vinson and Stennis were both named after US Senators who had a profound on the Navy as we know it and the Lincoln because he was Lincoln. So even though not all of the carriers are named after people who have served in the military they are all named after people with ties to the military, including Lincoln because of his being the President during the Civil War.

    • Rob C.

      Next ship is Enterprise if they ever get around to it.

    • Nick

      LCdr Gerald R. Ford, Jr. (USS Monterey, CVL-26, and 40th President of the United States); Senator John C. Stennis (Chairman, Senater Armed Forces Committee, and known as “The Father of America’s modern navy”); Representaive Carl Vinson (known as “The Father of the Two-Ocean Navy”); CPT Abraham Lincoln (Illinois Militia, Black Hawk War, and 16th President of the United States); COL Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1st US VOL Cavalry, CPT/8th RGT/ARNG [NY], Asst SECNAV, 26th President of the United States); LT John F. Kennedy (PT 109/PT 59, and 35th President of the United States). Each of these individuals were deeply involved in, or served with distinction, the United States Navy. Streets, schools, holidays are fine for most. But any Sailor knows the best memorial is having a vessel named after you. Not that BM2(SW) Lewis (USS Suribachi, AE 21; USS Dubuque, LPD-8) would get one, mind you. But, it would be very cool!

    • Veritas

      Herb:

      Bingo. Go back to the old traditional method of naming. No politician should have a ship named after them until they’ve been dead for a hundred years. I’d love to see an Essex, Franklin, Ranger, or Saratoga.

  • Rob C.

    Anyways, Hopefully US Congress will work out their funding issues they have with the military. Right now, the USS George Washington CVN-73 is about start process of planning for its DEFUELING. Their complaining about how much the prototype Ford Class ship costs? They can’t maintain the current fleet at this rate.

  • blight_asdf

    We opted for a 12-carrier navy knowing that a number of carriers would be in for availability and refueling. If the Ford’s reactors are as efficient as they say they are they will not require the refueling…which accelerates turnaround time considerably. We can probably get by with ten Fords in lieu of 12 Nimitz’.

  • rtsy

    Instead of decommissioning the older Nimitz-class carriers we should be selling them to our allies.

    • blight_asdf

      What ally could afford to crew a supercarrier and the required battlegroup to protect that investment?

      France is the other catapulter. I wonder if they would be up to it…

    • James

      we have a nasty tendency to scrap or sink worthy ships such as the American and Spruance class destroyers. The California nuclear cruisers were excellent ships that could have been gutted and fitted with modern electronics and missiles for have the cost of a new one. Watch the old movie Down Periscope and see all the cruisers tied up ready for scrapping or sinking. The US does the same with aircraft like the F-15 and F-16 even the F-111 and B-2 instead buying new.

    • Veritas

      I’m sure that the Japanese would have the ability to operate them. So would the British. Good idea.

    • e1sid

      No chance – just on manpower grounds. It would take most of the active-duty RN just to man a single Nimitz. I can’t remember the exact total figures off-hand, but there’s less than 4,000 crewing the entire RN escort fleet. There’s a reason why the RN puts so much emphasis on automation – the QE’s have a core crew of less than 700, with the same again for the airgroup.

      That’s before you get onto the matter of berths big enough to handle a Nimitz, sufficient nuclear infrastructure etc etc. Plus the cost of the ship is small beer compared to the cost of the airgroup – and few members of NATO have even a land airforce the size of a full Nimitz airwing.

    • Wyngard

      Why not sell that to the Philippines, its a much needed especially the country needed that one. That China that bullied small countries though.

    • Tiger

      Nobody wants a used 50 year old anything. Not a CVN by any means. Feel free to buy a Ford Fairlane. Just do not expect it to drive like a 2014 Honda Civic.

  • Lightingguy

    FRANCE ?.

    Mon Dieu !, It could not be !.

    The French go it their own on everything. Regardless of how much it costs.

  • Lightingguy

    I am curious though, I thought the EMALS and arresting gear was a mostly complete system(s) ?.

    Are they really installing this stuff on Ford, not sure it’s going to work, hoping to get it to work before the ship goes into service ?.

    Yeah, I know, done all the time. But unlike an semi-functional F35, when you have a fleet of legacy aircraft sitting around, in this case if the catapult and arresting systems don’t work as advertised, the ship is useless and is only 1 of 10 carriers.

  • stephen russell

    why not use 3D printing & save there alone & automate to reduce ships crew overall
    Save money BIG time for such carriers.
    Use Nimitz type for training with Gerald R Ford systems installed for crews.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    It is disconcerting that we still haven’t developed a point defense system from a clean sheet of paper to protect warships – let alone the huge assets like carriers. RAM started as a Sidewinder derivation, Sea Sparrow and the Evolved edition – all grew out of hardware designed for very different use.

    I wish we’d go in with the UK on CAAM. Shortranged, but so what? We won’t see future missiles coming until they’re almighty close. A cold-launched missile, small, so it would fit more easily then most weapons on LCS (let’s not go there in this thread.)
    Active terminal guidance, so a major injury to a big antenna might not totally cripple a launched missile.

  • biens

    Pipe dream. Half of the US carrier fleet will have to be retired as the dollar crashes in the coming 2-3 years. Profligacy and political madness have their consequences.

  • hollywoodlee

    This time, in “Final Countdown”, we will leave the Nimitz BACK in 1941 to fight the Japanese fleet at Pearl Harbor, and put a new slant on history.

  • Joe

    Pre assembled uniform parts were first properly implimented with military ship building with the HMS Dreadnaught.

    Nice to see the US Navy is stepping up and using 100 year old management processes.

  • George

    How are the four 26-megawatt generators hardened from attack? Take these out and the ship is dead in the water for flight operations. What are the back-up systems if this new technology should fail?

    • The one armed man

      They’re likely buried deep within the ship, so that anything short of a crippling blow would not affect them greatly. You can probably find some schenimatics on the net somewhere.

    • Electrical tech

      Remember, a steel ship is essentially a faraday cage and will shield the inner workings of a ship from EMP attacks. There will probably be minor damage to external devices but the main ops of the ship should be fully protected. Anything on the flight deck might get toasted from the intense electrical field from the EMP.

  • Robert

    Why are we naming another ship ” Kennedy”? There are other presidents that need recognition. Kennedy was in office for only 2 years!

  • AAK

    The Ford was already supposed to showcase modular pre-built CHEAPER construction. Surprise surprise cost overruns in the billions. Bid too cheap, lock in the program, then charge whatever you want because there’s no going back, typical military procurement scam. Nice piece of kit though, still the most versatile weapons group in the world.