The United States Navy is looking into its old bag of tricks to try to reduce the anticipated costs of growing its fleet of aircraft carriers, while expediting the construction of the new ships.
The Navy is expected to act soon to award the contract for the construction of the forthcoming CVN-80 USS Enterprise, the next in a series of Ford Class carriers that have been accounted for the Navy’s fleet expansion plans. However, with fresh memories of the cost overruns and delays associated with the construction of the first ship in the class, the Navy is considering using a tactic last seen during the heyday of the Nimitz class carrier construction: ordering two of the massive ships at once.
“This opportunity for a two-ship contract is dependent on significant savings that the shipbuilding industry and government must demonstrate,” Navy procurement executive James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy, Research Development and Acquisition, said in a written statement.
According to a formal Request for Proposal to industry released by the Navy, the sea faring branch is working to “further define the cost saving achievable with a two-ship buy,” and from a broad strokes perspective, it does look like it could be a legitimate cost saving move.
Currently, the Navy’s plans are to build Ford Class carriers at five year intervals. While it isn’t uncommon for smaller vessels to be purchased in bulk, or in “blocks,” the massive expense associated with just a single new carrier (projected to be $11.5 billion each) makes this methodology prohibitively expensive… unless the overall cost of developing the fleet is reduced by enough to make the initial cost of doubling an order worth it.
According to Vice Adm. Tom Moore, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, purchasing two carriers at once has a historical precedent for reducing costs and expediting delivery.
The facts are pretty clear: when we’ve had a chance to do two-ship buys on the carrier side, with CVN-72 and 73 and then again with 74 and 75, in terms of the total cost performance of the ships and the number of man-hours it took to build those ships, within the Nimitz-class those four ships were built for the fewest man-hours and the lowest cost. So you’re clearly getting benefit out of that, but you have to balance it against the other competing needs of the budget.”
The CVN-80 contract that will result in the construction of the Ford Class USS Enterprise is expected to be given to Newport News Shipbuilding as a part of the current fiscal year’s budget allocations, but may be adjusted to include the as-yet unnamed CVN-81 as well, provided the price is right.
The cost saving would come, in large part because it would require fewer total employees fewer total hours to build both ships at once, than it would to build one through completion before beginning the next five years later. An added bonus, however, would be the rapid deployment of not just one more Ford class carrier, but a second at a much shorter interval than previous expectations.
“It would allow us to get 81 quicker, so it would allow us to get to 12 carriers quicker than we would today,” Moore explained.
“We’ll see how it goes with the budgeting process, but the Navy has made I think a pretty compelling case why that would be good for us, and again both the [chief of naval operations] and the secretary of the Navy have said they are all for it, so that’s good enough for me.” He said.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy