Aircraft Carrier John F. Kennedy Christened at Newport News Shipbuilding

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Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, smashes a bottle on the bow of the ship as she christens of the nuclear aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, smashes a bottle on the bow of the ship as she christens of the nuclear aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

With the crash of a bottle against its hull, the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy was christened Saturday at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Caroline Kennedy, the late president's daughter, did the honors as ship's sponsor. It marked the second time she christened an aircraft carrier in her father's name. The first aircraft carrier named for JFK served through Vietnam and into the post-911 era. Caroline Kennedy, then a child, launched that ship in 1967.

The ceremony marked an important milestone for the Newport News shipyard, the sole designer and builder of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers for the Navy. It comes three months ahead of schedule, reflecting the company's push for efficiency in the multi-billion-dollar Gerald R. Ford class carrier program.

Kennedy is the second Ford-class carrier to be launched at Newport News and will cost $11.4 billion, a drop from the $12.9 billion first-in-class Gerald R. Ford that reflects thousands of lessons learned from one ship to the next, company leaders say.

In one way, the John F. Kennedy is a fitting name for CVN-79. Just as the young president called upon a new generation to lead the country, the shipyard has hired hundreds of tech-savvy workers who grew up in the digital age.

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With computer tablets replacing paper blueprints and augmented reality programs directing work, the company is banking on this new generation of employees to lead the way as the Ford program matures.

The Kennedy also benefited from an improved build strategy.

Aircraft carriers are built through modular construction. Giant pieces of the ship are assembled in yard, then lifted into the dry dock where the ship takes shape. Kennedy was built with larger and few of these components, which reduced the number of lifts into the dry dock.

The ship is on track to be built with 16% fewer labor costs than Ford. The shipyard said it can realize even more savings in the post-christening phase; its contracted target is 18 percent.

After the christening, the ship will be moved from the dock to an outfitting pier. It is about 67 percent complete, so much work remains before it can be declared ready for combat. The Navy plans to take delivery of the ship in 2022.

"This last phase is really exciting," said Jennifer Boykin, shipyard president, during a Friday walk-through. "I'm really looking forward to it."

This article is written by Hugh Lessig from Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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