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Aluminum Shipbuilder Austal Gets $50M for Steel Shipyard Capacity

Independence class LCS rolls out at Austal USA shipyard (Austal)
File image courtesy Austal USA

By The Maritime Executive 06-23-2020 04:28:44

Austal USA, the American subsidiary of Australian aluminum-hull shipbuilder Austal Limited, has received $50 million in discretionary support from the Pentagon to boost America's "steel shipbuilding capacity." The funding comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

Austal will likely match the Pentagon's support with an additional $50 million in funds. 

According to Austal, the firm will use the funds to begin investment in the development of additional capacity for steel naval vessel construction at its Mobile shipyard, which currently specializes in building midsize aluminum-hulled vessels for the U.S. Navy - the trimaran Independence-class littoral combat ship (LCS) and the catamaran Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport (EPF). The yard was established in 1999 to meet an "increasing commercial and defense aluminum vessel market," and its past portfolio is centered on aluminum construction. 

In 2019, Congress truncated the acquisition of both of LCS variants, including the Independence-class LCS and the steel monohull Freedom-class LCS built by Lockheed Martin/Fincantieri Marinette Marine. The Navy is seeking early retirement for the first four delivered LCS hulls, which have already been sidelined as non-deploying test ships. 

Going forward, the U.S. Navy has awarded Fincantieri a contract for a more heavily armed future frigate (FFG(X)) class, which will substitute for both LCS variants in future newbuild orders. Both Fincantieri Marinette and Austal USA will continue constructing and delivering LCS hulls until previously-ordered units are finished. 

In selecting Fincantieri Marinette's bid for the future frigate, the Navy retained the rights to its steel-hulled design, leaving the door open to recompeting the construction contract in future years or opening the program to a second yard (while keeping a single series of sister ships).