Record Aircraft Carrier Work Underway at Newport News Shipbuilding

Carriers USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) and John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) at Newport News Shipbuilding on Nov. 12, 2021. USNI News Photo

With construction on the Navy’s new class of aircraft carriers continuing in earnest, the nation’s largest shipbuilder currently has six nuclear carriers at various lifecycle stages in its Virginia yard, officials told USNI News.

From new Ford-class carriers under construction to the remains of the former USS Enterprise (CVN-65) that’s awaiting disposal, it’s the most carriers Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding has had in the yard in about three decades.

“I’ve been there 32 years, I think it’s the most we’ve had because of the [Planned Incremental Availability] with Ford and with the decommissioned hull that’s there. So I think that adds two new ships that traditionally would not be there,” Brian Fields, HII’s vice president of aircraft carrier construction for CVN-80 and CVN-81, told USNI News last week.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is in the final month of its first PIA, which began last year after the ship wrapped up the post-delivery test and trials stage and full ship shock trials. Enterprise was decommissioned in 2017 and the Navy is determining the best way to dispose of the service’s first nuclear-powered carrier.

Meanwhile, two Nimitz-class carriers are currently undergoing their mid-life refueling and complex overhauls (RCOH) at Newport News.

Carriers at Newport News:

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is pulled from its berth at the Huntington Ingalls Industries at Newport News Shipbuilding, Va., into the James River on Oct. 25, 2019. Ford is passing the former USS Enterprise (CVN-65). USNI News Photo

Record Aircraft Carrier Work Underway at Newport News Shipbuilding

“We’ve got a lot of work going on in the Norfolk area. We’ve got George Washington and Stennis in RCOH at Newport News,” Rear Adm. James Downey, the program executive officer for aircraft carriers, told reporters last month. Downey’s role includes overseeing carriers under construction, in maintenance periods and out for deployment.

“And Ford, of course . .. she’s wrapping up her first planned incremental availability, that’s her first in service availability following her post delivery test and trials,” he added. “And that’s being done over at Newport News Shipbuilding as well.”

Last year, the Navy awarded Newport News Shipbuilding a $3 billion contract to perform the RCOH for USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and it expected work on the ship to wrap up in August 2025, USNI News previously reported. Stennis entered Newport News for the RCOH in May 2021.

Meanwhile, USS George Washington (CVN-73) is nearing the end of its four-year RCOH and is the next carrier that will receive upgrades to accommodate the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, Downey said.

At the same time, HII is also finishing the construction of the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), which is slated to deliver to the Navy in 2024, and execute the block buy of the future USS Enterprise (CVN-80) and USS Doris Miller (CVN-81).

Downey said last month that CVN-80 is “about 12 percent complete” ahead of its 2028 planned delivery, with the keel laying slated for this spring. Meanwhile, Newport News cut the first steel for CVN-81 in August 2021 and the carrier’s delivery is expected in 2032.

Fields, who is currently leading construction for CVN-80 and CVN-81, said Newport News has planned around the demand of the carriers coming into the yard.

“In the business model, we’re supporting an availability, two RCOHs, and with the two-ship procurement of 80 and 81, we have 79, 80 and 81 under new construction. All of those are normal for us. Our facility plan, our staffing plan is all built to support that. So the unique thing that we have is we’re still supporting the Navy with CVN-65 Enterprise,” Fields said. “So as that plan matures, we’ll partner with them and help manage her through the last step of her life. So yeah, when you look at the spectrum of ships in the yard, it’s a lot of ships that we’re supporting, but the Navy does a great job forecasting what their needs are and allows us to prepare to support that.”

Decommissioned nuclear carrier Enterprise (CVN-65) sits pierside at Newport News Shipbuilding following its decommissioning in February 2017. US Navy Photo

With laser scanning equipment that helped engineers at Newport News plan for George Washington‘s RCOH ahead of time and digital-only blueprints for CVN-80 and CVN-81, the shipyard and its workforce are seeing the value in new technology.

“Obviously, the investment in the various programs is a little bit different. New construction, being fully digital, we’re seeing the workforce doesn’t know how to build CVN-80 with paper because it’s completely digital,” Fields told USNI News during a phone interview last month at the annual Surface Navy Association symposium. “We see that the demand for this on our waterfront … there’s a wide generation gap from an 18 year old that we just hired in, to a master shipbuilder that’s been here [for] 45 years. The one thing that’s consistent in that entire spectrum is that when they see the 3D visual work construction, they recognize it … it’s a lot more efficient and they can understand a lot faster what they’re being asked to do.”