Make The Next Round A Double

USS Gerald R Ford CVN 78 Christening 2013

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.

USS New Mexico Crossing Hampton Roads

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.

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5 responses to “Make The Next Round A Double”

  1. The United States is fiscally over-extended, and it cannot continue building and maintaining a military capable of supporting its global policeman role. At some point we have to create a global strategy in line with our ability to maintain it militarily. That may mean requiring European nations to pick up a larger share of the burden for defending themselves. It may mean requiring Korea, Japan and Taiwan to pick up a larger share of their own defense burden. It may require exiting from the Middle East and tolerating proxy wars between Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It may require asking India and China to play a bigger role in Afghanistan — a problem on their border, not ours.

    One strategic imperative that we cannot cede is control of the seas. It doesn’t matter how many divisions of Airborne and Marines we have, or how many squadrons of the latest fighter jets we have, if we can’t control the seas. Short-changing our Navy is the most short-sighted strategic decision we can possibly make. While jobs for Virginians are a definite bonus, I am heartened to see the pace of new vessel construction picking up.

  2. djrippert Avatar

    Nothing wrong with Federal jobs. They make a fine base for Virginia’s economy. The error comes in thinking that the growth of the Virginia economy can be based on the growth of discretionary Federal spending. Virginia needs a vibrant private sector component of the state economy that is not tightly tied to federal spending.

    Depending on the Federal Government’s spending creates a boom or bust economy with long running implications. See this article from Bloomberg which claims Virginia Beach is the US city with highest percentage of under water mortgages …

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Just to be clear – we are funding that Navy with borrowed dollars although I do agree with those who believe we must maintain our worldwide oceanic presence.

    Big ships are BIG “targets” in the current technological age where just about any 2-bit 3rd world country can possess the weaponry to grievously damage or even destroy large ships. That’s how we – the USA shot down an Iranian passenger airliner… because we were so close in – we could not differentiate friend or foe in enough time to defend.

    The next-generation Navy is going to be more automated and less crew-intensive. We can launch a whole lot of weaponized drones and air recon for a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft. It well could be that the carriers now planned may be , if not obsolete, seriously challenged by autonomous vehicles technology.

    ” How America’s Aircraft Carriers Could Become Obsolete
    Modern missiles make them vulnerable. A $13 billion price tag makes them expensive. New technology may make them unnecessary.”

    And I agree with DJ. Virginia’s defense industry should be our gravy not our main entree and we want to ALSO be building 21st century stuff for the Navy, not old stuff that is approaching obsolescence.

    Don’t be shocked when you hear that the Navy is reviewing it’s aircraft carrier concept.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    The way we can AFFORD a strong worldwide naval presence is by utilizing the same technologies that the private sector has – to reduce manpower needs, automate and disrupt…

    Do the same mission – do it cheaper, more efficient and better. We should expect no less from the Military than what we do from other taxpayer-funded institutions.

    What does that mean for Virginia? Well.. if we don’t invest in the workforce and technology infrastructure the Navy needs to modernize – that work is
    going to go to other places and that may well include the ships we build.

    I think it also means that workforce is not going to grow substantially in NoVa and may well reduce… and that includes many of the military bases and annexes.

    We’ve got an economic cash cow right now but we need to develop a private-sector economy also.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Too bad I can no longer sponsor a tour, Larry, because I could absolutely blow you away with the technology on those ships, and plenty of it I didn’t have the clearance to see. (Hard to get people in these days, actually.) The new carriers need substantially smaller crews to operate. The hull configuration matches the Nimitz Class but inside they are very different. But the debate does rage and will about the vulnerability of the carriers and they would be vulnerable in a fair fight. The goal is no fair fights.

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