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Navy seeks details from shipyard on two-carrier purchase

By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: March 19, 2018

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The Navy on Monday moved closer to buying two aircraft carriers at once, formally requesting shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries to “further define” possible cost savings of a double purchase.

“The opportunity for a two-ship contract is dependent on significant savings that the shipbuilding industry and government must demonstrate,” said James F. Guerts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

HII is the sole builder of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers at its Newport News Shipbuilding division. Responding to the Navy’s request, HII President Mike Petters released a statement in support of a two-carrier purchase, something he has advocated for some time.

“We believe the most effective way to reduce cost of aircraft carriers is to take a multi-ship purchase approach and build them every three to four years,” he said. “Buying two ships at once stabilizes the Newport News Shipbuilding workforce and their national supplier base, allows us to buy materials in quantity, and phase work more efficiently. This action by the U.S. Navy allows us to work with them to better define and achieve the significant cost savings that will result from this approach.”

A two-carrier purchase would cover the future USS Enterprise, also known as CVN-80, now undergoing advance work at the Newport News shipyard, plus CVN-81, which does not yet have a name. The two ships constitute the third and fourth carriers of the Gerald R. Ford class.

“The Navy plans to award the CVN-80 construction contract in early fiscal year 2019 as a two-ship buy pending congressional approval and achieving significant savings,” Guerts said.

The bulk purchase of aircraft carriers has significant support in Congress. In December, 131 House of Representatives members signed a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis supporting the idea, led by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland. Earlier that month, nine senators backed a two-carrier purchase, including Virginia Democrats Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine.

The Trump administration supports a significant expansion of the Navy fleet, from about 275 ships today to 355. That would include expanding the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 12.

Speaking at a conference last year, Petters said a two-carrier purchase “would be a huge signal to the whole industry that we’re really serious about changing the size of the Navy.”

Earlier this month, Guerts had a measured response when asked about a two-carrier purchase while testifying before a House Armed Services panel.

"We’re not at the point yet where I’m ready to put that on the table,” he said. “We’re working with the contractor to sharpen the estimates and ensure we really understand what that opportunity provides to us.”

Two-carrier purchases happened twice during the Reagan defense buildup. The carriers Theodore Roosevelt and George Washington were purchased in fiscal year 1983; the John C. Stennis and Harry S Truman aircraft carriers were ordered in 1988.

Those double purchases cut costs by about 10 percent, Guerts said. He told the Armed Services panel that savings today would depend on the timing; it would be at least $1 billion and as much as $2.5 billion.

The Navy orders Virginia-class submarines in larger blocks, and that program is considered a success. Those boats are built in a partnership with the Newport News yard and General Dynamics Electric Boat of Groton, Conn.

©2018 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
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