NEWPORT NEWS -- The only shipyard to build aircraft carriers in the United States says the Navy's vision for building them more frequently could save $1.5 billion for every three carriers built and reduce construction time for each by up to two years.
The Navy's top admiral, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, released a paper earlier this week that called for greatly expanding the size of the fleet at a much faster pace. He wants to achieve a 350-ship Navy in the 2020s rather than the 2040s, to keep up with global competitors like China and Russia.
The Navy has about 275 ships today, and its most recent shipbuilding plan puts the service on pace for reaching 310 ships in 2022. The Congressional Budget Office has said getting to 355 ships would cost up to an extra $5 billion a year for 30 years. But those figures don't include extending the lives of some ships, as Richardson also is proposing.
Newport News Shipbuilding, which builds, refuels and overhauls all U.S. aircraft carriers, says buying three at once instead of the current practice of buying one at a time would create substantial savings.
"This approach would provide stability to Newport News Shipbuilding and our supply chain of more than 2,000 companies in 46 states to better plan and invest in our workforce and facilities," Christie Miller, a shipyard spokeswoman, said in an email. "It would also allow us to purchase materials in quantity, and to plan and phase work to maximize learning."
Richardson's plan calls for buying carriers every three to four years instead of every five or more.
Currently, it takes 10 to 11 years to build a Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, said Mike Shawcross, Newport News Shipbuilding's vice president for aircraft carrier construction for the future John F. Kennedy and Enterprise.
It took about eight years to build the older Nimitz-class carriers. Shawcross said ordering three ships at a time would allow the Ford-class ships to be built in a similar time frame. There also would be less time between carrier delivery dates.
The Ford is scheduled to be commissioned later this year, while the John F. Kennedy is scheduled for 2022 and the Enterprise in 2027. If Richardson's plan is implemented, Shawcross said the faster pace and cost savings could begin with the Enterprise and the two as-yet unnamed carriers that will follow it, which could be finished three years apart.
"Right now the Ford was about 11, the Enterprise would be scheduled for about 10, and I think we could knock a year or two off that," Shawcross said.