Video: Giant Aircraft Carrier Hull Section Lifted into Place
On Wednesday, shipbuilders at the Huntington Ingalls Newport News yard lifted a 900-tonne "superlift" into place on the future USS John F. Kennedy, bringing the $11 billion carrier past the 50-percent completion mark.
The superlift, commonly referred to by overseas shipbuilders as a super block, is one of the heaviest of the pre-assembled sections that will be joined together to make up the second ship in the Ford-class. The block comprising the aft section of the ship between the hangar bay and flight deck is 80 feet long, about 110 feet wide and four decks in height.
The superlift combined 19 smaller blocks into one larger unit, which allowed Newport News to pre-install a substantial portion of the segment's fittings, like grating, pumps, valves, pipe, electrical panels, mounting studs, lighting, ventilation and other components. This saves time compared with installing these fixtures after assembly in the graving dock, which helps bring down the carrier's substantial cost.
“Not only did we build this superlift larger and with significantly more pre-outfitting, we managed much of the work on the deckplate with new digital project management tools as part of our Integrated Digital Shipbuilding initiative. The lessons we learned from this successful superlift will allow us to build even more similar superlifts on future ships in the Ford class," said Mike Butler, Newport News' program director for the future USS Kennedy.
At $13 billion, not including R&D, the recently-completed USS Gerald R. Ford is the most expensive warship in history, and her cost is rising as post-shakedown repairs continue. The first-in-class USS Ford may also be the most expensive vessel of any kind: she has only Shell's Prelude FLNG for competition. (Shell has never disclosed the final price of the world's costliest civilian hull.)
Given the cost overruns and delays for USS Ford, the Navy has committed to achieving savings on the next three hulls. It negotiated for a labor expense reduction for the second vessel, USS Kennedy, and received a commitment from Huntington Ingalls to cut man-hours by 18 percent. As of early August, at the 47-percent-completion mark, HII Newport News fell two percentage points short of that target, according to Bloomberg. Ultimately, Kennedy is projected to cost $11.3 billion, and third-in-class USS Enterprise is budgeted at $12.6 billion (including future-year inflation). The as-yet-unnamed fourth vessel will be much more than the rest, at $15 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.