I'm disappointed I didn't hear about this earlier, but Northrop Grumman Newport News has started construction on the USS Gerald R Ford, CVN-78. Northrop Grumman is short of workers and is getting workers from other industries and is training them. Congress approved the budget early and Newport News is welding away at the new aircraft carriers. Story Here:
NEWPORT NEWS - Full-scale production is at least a year away, but construction has started on pieces of the Navy's first Ford-class aircraft carrier.
Most of the work at Northrop Grumman Newport News has involved piecing together the structural steel modules that will make up the flattop's framework - bulkheads, inner bottom, decks and side shells.
More than 50 module sections and 1,300 sections of pipe detail have been completed, and work will be under way on at least 300 of the structural units by the end of this year, shipyard officials said.
It's geared partly toward building up worker expertise in anticipation of full ramp- up of construction in 2008.
"We have the biggest gap we've ever had, at least in recent times, between carriers," said Mike Shawcross, vice president of the carrier class, named after former President Gerald R. Ford.
Construction on the George H.W. Bush, the 10th and final Nimitz-class carrier, started in 2001, a seven-year gap that left the yard with fewer veteran workers to begin the Ford, or CVN-78.
In part to address that, Congress set aside $1.38 billion that the Navy awarded Northrop Grumman in 2004 to allow the shipbuilder to begin ordering material and start advance construction.
"It allows us to level-load our work force," Shawcross said. "We wanted to have a ramp- up that was as gradual as possible."
Many of the workers hired will be coming from other industries and will need training, he said.
Congress began providing money for the Ford-class program in fiscal 2001, but the date for full-scale construction has slipped two years. President Bush has included $2.8 billion in his proposed fiscal 2008 budget to get the full work under way. On that schedule, the Ford would be delivered to the Navy in 2015.
Despite debate on Capitol Hill about the Navy's rising shipbuilding costs, there's no indication that Congress will reject Bush's request for Ford construction money, said Ronald O'Rourke, a national defense specialist for the Congressional Research Service.
"Compared to certain other shipbuilding programs, the procurement of CVN-78 has been a relatively noncontroversial item," O'Rourke said in an e-mail.
Congress, he added, gave the Navy authority last year to spread the Ford's construction cost, projected at $8.1 billion, over four years to free up money for other ships. Doing so would not alter the planned 2008 ramp- up, he said.
Northrop Grumman has spent more than $170 million to upgrade facilities at its Newport News yard to build the Ford class, said Lucas Hicks, a construction superintendent.
That includes construction of a 1.2-acre Covered Modular Outfitting Facility, which has a retractable roof allowing cranes to lift out completed modules. The yard's signature 900-ton crane is being upgraded to lift 1,050 tons.
"We're trying to get bigger chunks of steel going to the ship at once," Hicks said.
Inside the shipyard's Aviation Ship Integration Center, work continues on a key design innovation - modular rooms that can be quickly outfitted to meet changing missions.
Equipment going into the Ford carriers, including desks, computer stations and overhead lights, will be bolted into place on lightweight aluminum tracks embedded into the flooring. Such things used to be hot- welded, making it time-consuming and costly to remove them during technology upgrades or other modernization.
Even air vents and bulkheads - walls inside the ship - will be mov able. Recently, Northrop Grumman gave Navy officers a demonstration, setting up one room for a flag officers briefing, and then changing it out for a homeland security meeting two hours later.
"The less we have to weld into the ship, the more flexible it's going to be," said Rich Johnson, the shipyard's manager for concept of operations for future aircraft carriers. "Less is more in this case."
Like the design changes to the carrier, Shawcross said Northrop Grumman's facility improvements are aimed at driving down costs.
Please ladies and gentlemen, save me a piece of that hull to work on!