YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Even Capt. Thomas Parker is in awe.

“I dare you not to be impressed,” the Kitty Hawk commander says, standing next to his dry-dock bound ship. “You get down under there, you look up at the hull and the screws … it’s like something out of a science-fiction movie.”

And he’s right.

Descending down into Yokosuka’s Dry Dock 6 — walking under the hull of an 86,000-ton ship resting on hundreds of suddenly fragile-looking concrete and wood blocks — gives a completely different view of the 42-year-old aircraft carrier.

Until the end of the summer, Navy officials say, the Kitty Hawk will be out of commission.

Thousands of sailors and Japanese workers will swarm over the ship, giving it everything from a new paint job to an upgraded flight deck capable of handling the next-generation Navy Super Hornet attack aircraft.

On Tuesday, ship officials gave a rare tour from the bottom-up, allowing Japanese and American media to literally bang a few barnacles off the keel.

The ship is surrounded by a growing cocoon of metal scaffolding, with small wooden planks so workers can traverse the sides of the hull. The biggest job, officials said, is painting the hull.

“Manpower-wise, that’s the big one,” said Capt. David Bella, commander of Yokosuka’s Ship Repair Facility, which is in charge of the dry-dock period.

“The last time the whole ship was painted was 1998. We’re looking at over $1 million in paint alone for that portion,” he says, gesturing at an area that stretched from an aft aircraft elevator to the stern.

Most of the ship’s crew has moved onto three different berthing barges at Yokosuka while the work is completed. The noise of grinding and pounding is constant.

“This is now an industrial environment,” Parker said.

Yokosuka’s SRF employs 1,800 Japanese workers; at any time during the dry-dock period, Bella said, at least one-third of them will be working on the Kitty Hawk.

In addition, “twice as many” contractors from local Japanese companies, like Sumitomo Steel, will be working on the project.

“It all depends on their specialty. You’ve got Sumitomo workers cutting off those steel bearings, then you’ll have our SRF guys putting on the new ones,” Bella said.

“We’ll be pumping a lot of money back into the Japanese economy.”

There are also some 300 American contractors from U.S. firms working on the project.

None of the Navy officials could give an estimate on how much all of the work is going to cost. Repairs completed during its last dry-dock period, from January to March 1998, totaled $110 million, according to the official ship’s Web site.

Navy officials will not say how many years the repairs are expected to add to the life of the Kitty Hawk, or to what extent the oldest active ship in the Navy has taken a beating over the past few years.

The Kitty Hawk has been used extensively, including stints in the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. Navy officials say the ship is scheduled to decommission in 2008.

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