Virginia leaders like to get up on their soapboxes and worry that Virginia is too dependent on defense spending and promise elaborate strategies to diversify the economy. Be grateful in some places the focus remains on building more combat ships at Newport News Shipbuilding, keeping its 20,000 plus employees and thousands of suppliers and contractors fully engaged well into the future.
As the House and Senate in Washington inch toward a fiscal year 2019 defense budget, the House has offered a version that expands on the Trump Administration’s proposal by setting up a single order for two nuclear aircraft carriers.
The Senate isn’t there yet. CVN 80, the future U.S.S. Enterprise, is already in the early stages of construction but the main construction contract has not been signed. The proposal is to contract for the unnamed CVN 81 at the same time.
Huntington Ingalls Industries, parent of the shipyard, claims that ordering two carriers at the same time would save the Navy $1.6 billion because it would allow more negotiating leverage with the supply chain and would keep the workforce steady state. While working there I heard it was ideal to start a new carrier every four or five years, but the gap between them recently has been more like seven years. One result of that is a labor valley every so often.
Two carriers included in a single contract would still need to be built in sequence, since there remains only one dry dock and crane capable of accommodating the assembly process. But as Enterprise sailed out of Dry Dock 12, the pre-built sections of CVN 81 would be ready to start going in. Enterprise will be the replacement for the first-of-its-class U.S.S. Nimitz, CVN 68, aging into its 40s and nearing retirement.
The ship in the dry dock now is CVN 79, the future U.S.S. John F. Kennedy. She is about 80 percent structurally complete and her christening and launch date are coming up fast. Debate continues over the utility of the large deck nuclear carrier in this submarine and missile-infested world, but it remains one weapons platform that our rivals obviously covet but cannot yet duplicate.
There is more potential good news for Virginia in the House version of the defense plan. The Navy is now starting two Virginia Class submarines annually, splitting the work between Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics, but the old Los Angeles Class boats are retiring fast. The House adds a third submarine start in 2022 and 2023 – which is also when construction of the first new ballistic missile submarine, the future U.S.S. Columbia, should be in full swing at both Newport News Shipbuilding and Electric Boat.
Finally in the mid-2020s the aforementioned U.S.S. Nimitz returns to the yard for decommissioning of her nuclear components. That’s a couple thousand more jobs, too. So diversify the economy, certainly, but as they say in politics: Don’t forget your base.
After watching the christening of the U.S.S. George Bush CVN 78 in October 2006 I was heading out on Warwick Boulevard and there was a protester with a sign saying the money should have been spent on jobs. That was one clueless ideologue.
Note: Both attached images were by the excellent staff photographers at NNS.There are currently no comments highlighted.