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Newport News Shipyard Cites Progress on Carrier Kennedy

The island structure of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) is lifted into place at Newport News Shipbuilding. (Photo: U.S. Navy, courtesy of Newport News Shipbuilding.)
The island structure of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) is lifted into place at Newport News Shipbuilding. (Photo: U.S. Navy, courtesy of Newport News Shipbuilding.)

A top Newport News Shipbuilding official says he's pleased with the pace of construction on the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, which recently bulked up by 900 tons.

The Kennedy is already beginning to take shape in dry dock, although it won't join the fleet until 2022. A 900-ton component that was recently lifted into place added yet another piece to the mammoth puzzle.

Using modular construction techniques, shipbuilders assemble smaller units of the ship away from the dry dock. Then they weld them together to form larger components called super-lifts. Using a 1,050 metric ton crane, these super-lifts are then positioned in the dry dock.

The Kennedy is scheduled to require 445 lifts. That's 51 fewer than the first-in-class Gerald R. Ford and 149 less than the USS George H.W. Bush, the last of the Nimitz-class carriers.

That's a good sign, say shipyard officials. It means more work is taking place in the yard -- where the work can be done more efficiently -- than on the ship in dry dock.

"Fewer lifts to the dock means we're building larger super-lifts with more outfitting installed prior to erecting the sections in the dock," said Mike Butler, the Kennedy construction program director, in a news release. "This translates to man-hour savings because the work is being accomplished off the ship in a more efficient work environment."

Mike Shawcross, Newport News vice president for Kennedy carrier construction, said lessons learned from the Ford and improvements implemented in Kennedy "are having a major impact on our construction efficiencies, just as we anticipated they would."

"We continue to focus on reducing cost, and we are pleased with our progress," he said.

The Navy and the shipyard are under scrutiny from Congress to keep costs down. The Ford will cost $12.9 billion. It came in more than 20 percent over budget and is about 14 months behind schedule.

The Kennedy is being built under a fixed-price contract with a cost cap mandated by Congress at $11.5 billion.

Nearly 90 lifts have been placed in the dock and joined together since the ship's keel-laying in August 2015. Once the Kennedy joins the fleet, it will replace the USS Nimitz.

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