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.

    • xXTomcatXx

      “Carrier defense will require the development of very expensive new technology”

      Who says it has to be very expensive to counter the threats? I recall SEARAM being an iterative development merging to proven systems for missile defense.

    • Curt

      One can always point out that the same argument was used in the 1960s.

    • Praetorian
    • glockman95370

      I was on the Kitty Hawk 77-78,we were always told that a carrier had 15 minutes to live if we went to war,an that was if the missle came from Russia and that if a sub launched a nuke torpedo at us we had even less time.All of the ships that were part of our fleet(10 or more ships and subs)were there to protect the carrier.If a EMP was exploded over a group of ships,all of that pretty tech that we have will mean nothing.In todays world high tech is a joke,I can remember dail phones,tv’s that didn’t have remotes plus just about everybody had black and white TV’s,my family was the first to get a colored one on block.An I’m only 60 yrs. old,the world has so much.

    • Greg_USNR

      Once the rail guns are deployed and have the bugs worked out the anti-missile defense will get better. There is also the adaptation of Iron Dome type systems. We are currently testing an airborne chemical laser system so how far are large ship systems off once that system is proven?

    • Veritas

      Same tune, same words, same lame proposal. Carriers are always said to be dinosaurs, some people just can’t learn.

  • 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?

    • elizzar

      The Argentinians tested the UK ship missile defences in 1982 and quite often found them wanting, including dedicated anti-air / missile ships. As a result of that war the UK adopted phalanx / goalkeeper amongst many other devices and improvements. The US also paid attention (see various military reports by the US navy etc).
      There are (strong) suggestions a British carrier was attacked by Exocet and that passive (chaff) defences worked, albeit to lure the missile into striking and sinking a container supply ship (the Atlantic Conveyor).

      • blight_asdf

        Atlantic Conveyor took /two/ Exocets. Information is scarce, but I am under the impression the Atlantic Conveyor was picked up and two aircraft vectored to intercept it, then destroy with anti-ship missiles.

        Getting to the truth will be a tricky matter.

      • e1sid

        Sea Dart at the time was geared to high-flying Soviet missiles, not seaskimmers. After the Falklands it received a software update which allowed it to kill a Silkworm heading for USS Missouri in GW1.

        • Rhys F

          Yes, and the Argnetines were so wary of that high and fast intercept capacity that they atually made their runs too low for many of their iron bombs to complete disarming after separation from the plane. The brits pulled several bombs out of ships with incompletely armed fuzes.
          The bombs at the time used a fuze which ensured it did not arm until the aeroplane was outside the blast and shrapnel radius, the fact they did not have time to arm, yet were tested and found post-battle to be working fuzes, not duds, tells of the Argentinos fears of the Sea Dart.
          If they had modern electronic instantaneous arming fuzes, the Brits would likely have lost several more ships.

    • James

      The Soviet have designed missiles to destroy carriers for 40 years. The newest generation is supersonic at 2,800 mph capable of putting a carrier out of commision for years in the repair yards. The SS-NX 26 Oniks is a Mach 2.5 missile with a 700 pound warhead. Launched in Mass at the battle group and designed to overwhelm the air defenses causing the escorts to deplete it’s SAM missile supply. The carrier needs to stay well of the coast while operating and out of range of the missile batteries. Soviets have designed them to be fired from shipping container size launchers small enough to be placed on small freighters.

    • Joe

      they just scuttled the USS America recently in order to see the effects of explosions on carrier design.

    • Curt

      You mean like a remotely operated ship to test missile defense systems. I don’t know, maybe the Paul F Foster since it was all electric. It could be stationed at Port Hueneme right next to the Pacific Missile Range, and would be used to try out the systems against representative threats that would be too dangerous for a manned ship. Oh wait….

    • Norge

      done that, USS America, results are classified but they wound up having to scuttle her

  • 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.

  • 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…

      • rtsy

        All of Europe could. Wouldn’t it be great to see a combined EU navy built around former American carrierskick the stinking shit out of Russia?

        • blight_asdf

          A fun thought, but the only CATOBARs would be Rafales. The French would bring Greyhounds and Hawkeyes, but everyone else would probably only have helicopters and STOVL JSF and Harriers.

          And without a ski-jump…though that reminds me, can ski-jumps and catapults be combined?

        • Tiger

          Oh really? Says the EU finance minsters….. Russia? Uh, who do you think keeps Europe warm at night? It sure as hell is not the North Sea crude.

      • Rob C.

        Only problem with that is their matter of cost. France isn’t a big enough country that it could support the maintenance requirements for a Nimitz Class vessel. They’ve been trying for decades to afford build second nuclear carrier and failed due to their economic situation and other factors. They were suppose to tag along with Great Britain to build a third Queen Elizabeth Class ship to compliment their existing ship and they gave up the Ghost on that.

        I rather see Navy put the thing into ready-reserve rather than completely decommission the ship. They could use the thing to compliment powering a city, even if the reactors aren’t suitable for ocean cruising.

        I don’t know if they could Mothball the George Washington due to its reactor though. I hope they manage to get funding for refuel and keeping it operational verse wasting billions on decommissioning / defueling perfectly usable Aircraft Carrier. It take while build these things!

        • blight_asdf

          Moor it at Norfolk and use it as additional facilities/reactor training? Then do carrier takeoff and landings as well.

          In the old days old ships were used as hulks as barracks and office space. Unsure if it would be appropriate to use a CVN for this.

      • Joe Sovereign

        We could have gave one to Iraq. Now ISIS would have it and we would have to sink it.

      • Tiger

        Cough cough, uh Brazil is the other other. The French have a CVN already in the De Guale.

    • 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.

      • The one armed man

        All mechanical systems eventually wear out. It’s like any used car, you can only replace parts for so long until it costs you more to fix the old than it does buy new. And eventually safety becomes an issue as well. All airframes crack over time with use. It eventually gets to the point that it’s too dangerous to fly and needs to either be fixed or scrapped. And if it can’t be easily fixed for a low cost it’s scrapped. At that point you buy another copy or you upgrade. In the war business you have to upgrade sometimes. The P-51 was amazing but eventually became obsolete in the jet age. And nuclear ships are very expensive to upkeep. That’s why only carriers are nuc powered.

      • Tiger

        The debt is near $18 trillion. The toys have to go. The People want plowshears, not swords.

    • Veritas

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

      • JohnQ

        If an ally of ours is serious about having a Nimitz-class it would really need to obtain three of them at once, to always have one on deployment (at least if that country plans on using the carrier like we use them). No European country is going to put up with that kind of outlay. Not only would they have to take the ships from us, along with all the maintenance and crew costs that that entails, these countries would also have to acquire a whole bunch of F/A-18s and other U.S. aircraft which are compatible with the carrier. After all, why have a Nimitz-class carrier, if you’re just going to put a few of your old Harriers and choppers on it?

        Japan has the largest GDP of all our allies (even if its economy has been sluggish for a decade now). They also face a real threat in the form of an increasingly belligerent Chinese navy. In the face of the Chinese threat, Japan is now beginning to grapple with expanding the role of its military after all decades of post-WWII pacifism. Still, I think it a very long-shot for Japan to want our old Nimitz carriers. But if they wanted them, I’d gladly be in favor of it.

    • 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

        They can hardly afford second hand USCG cutters…..

    • 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.

    • Tad

      DOT&E does not appear to think they’re mature technologies. At least not back in January or February when they issued their annual report. And yes, concurrent development leads exactly to situations like planning to install these things on the Ford when they’re not ready.

  • 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.

    • rtsy

      Don’t you love how people throw around 3D printing like its a simple solution to any manufacturing problem?

  • 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.

    • rtsy

      Lets hope its more along the lines of 15-20 years. We’d need to loose a major war for the Dollar to really crash.

      • tres

        Is that a realistic hope?

    • Haven’t the “dollar crash” predictors been making that prediction for the psat five years now and it is always just another couplf of years away__

      • spurr

        You haven’t been reading and listening carefully. Nobody of note has ever put an exact time line on the collapse of the dollar. They have merely put forward the basis for the collapse. “a couple of years away” is just something you either made up yourself or confused with stock or housing market collapses.

        For the dollar to collapse, the major trading nations will have to first switch to a different currency. While this is happening or even accelerating thanks to the numbskulls in Washington DC, it hasn’t reached the point of replacing the dollar yet.

        A British journalist stationed in the Middle East made the first announcement of an estimated time line in 2009 when he reported that Russia, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and a few others had agreed in a secret meeting (to which the US had been denied attendance) to stop trading oil in US dollar starting 2018.

  • 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.

    • blight_asdf

      Wonder if JP-7 could’ve been made in ’41…without fuel for the air wing, the ability of a time-traveled aircraft carrier to impact history would be limited.

      A Doolittle raid with carrier-launched jet fighters carrying nukes would certainly have ended the war though; and the IJN would be unable to penetrate CIWS/Sea Sparrow range.

      I suppose long lances are a possibility…

  • 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?

  • 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.