HII Lays Keel of Future Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – HII has laid the keel block of the aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-80) on Tuesday, USNI News has learned. The seventh U.S. warship named after the Revolutionary War sloop, Enterprise formally began fabrication at HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding yard in Virginia, Rear Adm. James Downey, the program executive officer for carriers, told […]

An artist’s concept of the future carrier Enterprise (CVN-80). DoD Image

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – HII has laid the keel block of the aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-80) on Tuesday, USNI News has learned.

The seventh U.S. warship named after the Revolutionary War sloop, Enterprise formally began fabrication at HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding yard in Virginia, Rear Adm. James Downey, the program executive officer for carriers, told USNI News on Tuesday.

The start of fabrication comes three weeks ahead of schedule and as the carrier is about 13 percent done, Downey said.

Enterprise will be the third Gerald Ford-class aircraft carrier and is expected to deliver to the Navy in 2028. HII and the service will have a formal ceremony marking the occasion in August, USNI News understands.

Enterprise and follow-on ship the future USS Doris Miller (CVN-81) were bought as part of a block-buy strategy estimated to be valued at $24 billion, as part of a 2019 deal with HII. Miller is expected to deliver to the fleet by 2032.

News of the milestone comes as the Navy confirmed the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) had reached initial operational capacity in December. The quiet declaration means is now in material shape to deploy followed the delivery of the carrier’s 11th Advanced Weapons Elevator. The carrier commissioned in 2017 with none of the elevators delivered and working out the kinks in the system was a major roadblock for the program.

Last month, Ford completed a six-month availability following full-ship shock trails in which the Navy detonated 40,000-ton of explosives in a durability test of the carrier’s design. The carrier is now due to begin workups before an anticipated fall patrol.

Newport News is currently working on the three future Fords — John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), Enterprise and Miller – as well as the mid-life overhaul of USS George Washington (CVN-73) and USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74). The hulk of the decommissioned aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-65) is also at the yard.

Pentagon Acquisition Chief Nominee Argues Navy Needs Larger, More Survivable Fleet

The nominee for the Pentagon’s top acquisition post told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the Navy needs a larger and more survivable fleet. “We need more numbers” when it comes to Navy fleet size and “we want survivable; we want strike” for the future,” William LaPlante, a former assistant secretary of the Air […]

USS Princeton (CG-59) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Halsey (DDG-97) and USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) steam in formation during a composite unit training exercise (COMPTUEX) on May 12, 2020. US Navy Photo

The nominee for the Pentagon’s top acquisition post told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the Navy needs a larger and more survivable fleet.
“We need more numbers” when it comes to Navy fleet size and “we want survivable; we want strike” for the future,” William LaPlante, a former assistant secretary of the Air Force, said in his opening statement before the panel on Tuesday. If confirmed to the post, LaPlante said his focus “must be laser-like on [acquiring] speed and scale” through software.

Erik Raven, a long-time Senate Appropriations Committee staffer and the nominee to service as the Navy’s under secretary, said in opening remarks that modernization “means identifying the capabilities that are needed, setting a plan for acquiring them, and working with partners in industry to deliver them efficiently.”

He added later, “the 30-year shipbuilding plan is a signal to industry” of what to expect from the Navy in the way of contracts and mix of ships. But “the force structure assessment is another key element” in determining fleet size. He added the latest assessment is to be “completed in the near future.”

Current Navy fleet size requirement is set at 355 ships; there are 298 ships in the fleet now, according to the service.

The federal budget for Fiscal Year 2023 is slated for release on Monday.

“We learned the lesson from Ford and thankfully we learned the lesson from F-35 … that you have to have mature technology” and realistic cost estimates in big-ticket platforms with hosts of new software, LaPlante said of the Ford-class aircraft carrier program and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

In written comments, LaPlante added, “my understanding is that there are clear sustainment challenges facing the F-35 program in terms of both readiness and affordability,” with the goal of reducing the high sustainability costs.

He said a good model going forward in these programs would be to look to the Air Force’s B-21 bomber. That program used “open systems that we can upgrade very fast.” The key idea is “we’ve got to these capabilities into those weapons systems” that are in place as quickly as possible for future use.

“We’ve known about modular systems for 20 years” that would allow constant upgrading; they should “always be part of the acquisition process,” LaPlante said.

He later said that ensuring cyber security measures are in place three to four levels down among subcontractors on big-ticket platforms like ships and aircraft is critically important for their survivability in combat.

“Don’t back cyber in,” he said.

Several times Raven was asked about the importance of shipyard infrastructure and its role in readiness. Pointing to the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP), he said “this is [a] once in a century bill” that promotes operational and industry readiness.

In written remarks LaPlante said that ‘’understanding the constraints in the supply chain, workforce, capacity and capability of the nation’s ship repair infrastructure is critical to planning effective improvements.”

Both Raven and LaPlante told the committee that COVID-19 has had an impact on shipbuilding and repair schedules in the last two years.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) pressed Raven on expanding sealift capacity, noting the Chinese have 5,500 ships in its merchant fleet while the United States has 85. Sealift is “key to our warfighting capabilities.” Raven said he would examine adding more ships to American sealift by buying more commercial vessels.

In prepared answers, Raven noted his role in developing a pilot program in the Pacific for Navy work to be done in private yards, which will be expanded to the Atlantic this year. “This pilot program seeks to increase the transparency and flexibility of ship depot maintenance efforts.” Raven added later that one of his goals, if confirmed, “is to build key partnerships” in the joint force, on Capitol Hill, with industry and the communities supporting Navy and Marine Corps installations and activities.

“The need to modernize applies not only to major platforms and breakthrough technologies like hypersonic missiles and artificial intelligence. It also applies to the facilities and infrastructure,” Raven said in his opening remarks.

On those breakthrough technologies, like hypersonics, LaPlante said the Air Force made a mistake in backing away from glide vehicles after two failures more than a decade ago. Several senators noted the service should have continued testing, as the Russian and Chinese did following failures in their hypersonic glide vehicle program.

LaPlante added the Pentagon needed to work more closely with “emerging tech eco-systems” across the country, as those eco-systems have “strong ties to academia.”

In his prepared answers, Raven said, “I believe initiatives and networks such as these are critical in identifying new technologies to the warfighter.”

During the hearing, LaPlante added the Pentagon, however, must “show you there is hope” that the new technology can move from early phases of defense spending into full production.

Record Aircraft Carrier Work Underway at Newport News Shipbuilding

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 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 

  • Enterprise (CVN-65): Awaiting disposal.
  • USS George Washington (CVN-73): Mid-life refueling and complex overhaul.
  • USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74): Mid-life refueling and complex overhaul.
  • USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78): Planned Incremental Availability.
  • John F. Kennedy (CVN-79): Finalizing construction.
  • Enterprise (CVN-80): Early construction.

“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.”

Navy Says Aircraft Carrier Supply Chain Improving; USS Gerald R. Ford to Deploy by Fall

The Navy is confident in its supply chain and the availability of spare parts to build and sustain its aircraft carriers, as the lead ship in the Gerald R. Ford class gears up for its first deployment, two service officials said last week. After taking parts from the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), the […]

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

The Navy is confident in its supply chain and the availability of spare parts to build and sustain its aircraft carriers, as the lead ship in the Gerald R. Ford class gears up for its first deployment, two service officials said last week.

After taking parts from the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), the Navy is beginning to receive orders to replace those parts. The parts from JFK – which is currently under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding – were placed on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) so the lead ship is ready deploy this year.

“The backfill of the parts that were taken from JFK – those are starting to come in. So we don’t see that it’s going to have any future impacts on JFK,” Jay Stefany, who is currently performing the duties of the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, told reporters on Friday.

The sustainment parts for Ford – which is set to deploy this fall – are on the carrier, Rear Adm. James Downey, the program executive officer for carriers, said last week.

“We will order the deployment-like items, but those are much more in the perishable phase at this point. The sustainment items are onboard and doing well,” Downey said.

After wrapping up shock trials over the summer, Ford pulled into port at Newport News for its Planned Incremental Availability (PIA), which is set to finish at the end of February. During that maintenance period, the Navy had to cannibalize some parts from JFK and place them on Ford, USNI News previously reported.

As it prepares for the lead ship in the class to deploy for the first time later this year, the Navy is continuing to work with both industry and its field activities to ensure the carrier has the parts it needs, according to Downey.

“First I’ll share that 96 percent of our systems have transitioned out to Navy field activities to be the in-service engineering activities. So we have about four systems left that we’re transitioning from Newport News – that’s a normal course of maturity for us,” he said, noting that this includes transferring both technical documents and parts for the systems.

The Navy has also hosted subject matter experts from industry aboard Ford to help ensure it has a healthy understanding of what parts it might need to buy or systems it could need to alter.

“What we’ve done is we’ve brought those SMEs – first we’ve increased what we were ordering and we have the parts aboard as we saw [over] those 18 months mostly at sea for Ford. But we’ve also brought those SMEs in,” Downey said. “We have some pretty significant industry exchanges on a very routine basis and we’ve had their SMEs aboard the ship – in port and at sea – for any procurement adjustments or any system changes. And we did that intentionally during [post-delivery test and trials]. So, we’re in a good position on those – in the sustainment areas.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some disruptions, Downey emphasized that much of the effects have been about people rather than material items, and that there are “no known significant supplier issues” that would prevent the Navy from getting Ford out to the fleet or completing construction on the next three ships in the class.

“Small companies – you know under a hundred folks or so – you have the challenge on, more so on the subject matter expert side of how deep they are, if others are out due to COVID issues. That’s a bit of it – of one of the issues. Another one is quarantine time – you know, if they’re not all in the Norfolk area traveling and how we transport the parts, these type of things. Most of the issues we’ve experienced aren’t directly material,” he said.

For example, Downey said finishing Ford‘s Advanced Weapons Elevators took longer than planned because doing so required the HII team to work in constricted spaces.

“You can imagine how tight those working conditions can be in an elevator. Although they’re pretty big, they’re confined areas. But with the size – with the volume of work out of Newport News, they do have multiple suppliers for most of their systems or components. So, we haven’t had issues that have stopped construction or stopped operation,” he told reporters. “I will say, on in service, we have had some issues on overhauling existing units at suppliers who are relatively small and have maybe slowed down or relocated during the COVID situation. So most of it has been related to the people, and their availability.”

Both the block buy of the future USS Enterprise (CVN-80) and the future USS Doris Miller (CVN-81) and keeping many of the systems for the carriers consistent has also helped with materials, Downey said.

“That has helped some of those vendors and the Navy as well,” he said. “So my view is we’re in a good position – sufficient so that Ford will be ready to go to operational tasking this year.”

Downey said Ford would deploy by this fall.

“Very end of the summer. If we look at dates out there – what are typical, actual dates for beginning of the fall – she’s right around there to a bit to the left of it,” he said.

USS Gerald R. Ford Needs Parts from Carrier Kennedy for Repairs; Navy Says ‘Cannibalization’ Won’t Delay JFK Schedule

The Navy is taking parts from an aircraft carrier currently under construction and placing them on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) so the lead ship is ready to deploy next year, USNI News has learned. The parts are coming from the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), the second ship in the Ford class of […]

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

The Navy is taking parts from an aircraft carrier currently under construction and placing them on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) so the lead ship is ready to deploy next year, USNI News has learned.

The parts are coming from the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), the second ship in the Ford class of aircraft carriers that is currently under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va.

Capt. Clay Doss, the Navy’s acquisition spokesman, told USNI News the parts taken from Kennedy for Ford range from pumps to limit switches.

“Examples of parts include HMI screens for stores elevators as well as motor controllers, power supplies, small pumps, limit switches and valve actuators for various systems throughout the ship,” Doss said. “This is not unusual early in a program and will occur less often as supply support matures.”

Doss described the decision to take parts from Kennedy for Ford as a “project management tool” the service uses across programs.

“It occurred only after confirming the parts or materials were not available in the supply system and/or that alternate sources were not available,” Doss told USNI News. “A replacement plan was also required in each case. None of the parts transferred to CVN 78 are projected to impact the CVN 79 construction schedule.”

In a separate statement, Naval Sea Systems Command said the procedures were in line with Navy maintenance rules.

“In accordance with the Navy’s Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual, cannibalizations are being used as part of the process to augment readiness of CVN 78, and are only initiated after non-availability of materials has been established in the supply system or verification that alternate sources are not available,” Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Alan Baribeau told USNI News in a statement.

Ford, the lead ship that has faced multiple delays and struggled with the reliability of several new technologies aboard, is set to deploy in 2022, USNI News recently reported.

A spokesperson for HII said the shipbuilder and the Navy are creating a supply network for the carrier class so the ships have access to spare parts.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) on Nov. 12, 2021. USNI News Photo

“A common shipbuilding practice for the first ship in class is to share parts between ships in order to maximize readiness until a class-wide supply system is established,” Duane Bourne told USNI News. “A relatively small volume of materials from the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) has been used on first-of-class U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) without impacting schedules. We are working with our Navy customer to build a supply system to include spare parts for the Ford class.”

The ship is currently in port for a six-month maintenance phase known as a Planned Incremental Availability after wrapping up shock trials over the summer.

“Everything is on track. We’re still looking to get out as scheduled after the six-month availability. No big show-stoppers that they’ve come across at all. So very, very positive news coming from the captain and from the shipyard. And then as we come out of that, I think we’re going to be set very well to get back in that operational mindset and get ready for the deployment,” Rear Adm. Gregory Huffman, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 12 who will lead the Ford CSG on its first deployment, told USNI News in an interview last month.

While the Navy previously planned to take delivery of Kennedy in two different phases as a cost-saving measure, last year the service shifted to a single-phase delivery approach. Under the new plan, the Navy will accept Kennedy with all of the modifications necessary to accommodate the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter. The shift came after lawmakers included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2020 defense policy bill requiring that Kennedy be able to deploy with F-35Cs prior to finishing its post-shakedown availability phase.

“Under a single-phase delivery, Kennedy is scheduled to be [delivered] in 2024 with its complete warfare systems and with the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35C) capability that is required by the NDAA,” Bourne told USNI News.

Top Stories 2020: U.S. Navy Acquisition

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. 2020 may be among the most consequential years for Navy acquisition in recent memory, with the service making big moves in support of its Distributed Maritime Operations operating concept. 2020 was the year the Navy officially started construction […]

Attack boat Vermont (SSN-792) float-off on March 29, 2019. General Dynamics Electric Boats Photo

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. 2020 may be among the most consequential years for Navy acquisition in recent memory, with the service making big moves in support of its Distributed Maritime Operations operating concept. 2020 was the year the Navy officially started construction on the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program, a massive every-other-generation effort to replace the sea-based nuclear deterrent subs. It was also the year the Constellation-class guided-missile frigate program was awarded to Fincantieri, who will design and build what will become a centerpiece of the future distributed fleet. It was the year the Navy called for an end to the F/A-18E-F Super Hornet program, reinvesting that money into a longer-range next-generation fighter that could help silence critics who say the aircraft carrier will be useless against China because the air wing’s range is too short. And it was the year the Navy and its Marine Corps partners moved out on a Light Amphibious Warship that could revolutionize how the Fleet Marine Force moves around a maritime theater in support of sea control and sea denial.

Surface Ships

Fincantieri FFG(X) Design based on the FREMM. Fincantieri Image

The surface fleet is among the parts of the Navy most changed by Distributed Maritime Operations. Rather than the Navy’s recent reliance on guided-missile cruisers and destroyers to drill with allies and partners, patrol chokepoints and conduct freedom of navigation operations, the Navy will instead rely on a large fleet of small combatants to do much of this day-to-day work, freeing up a smaller number of destroyers to conduct higher-end operations and haul around large, long-range missiles. Key to this plan is the success of the Constellation-class frigate. The Navy awarded a $795-million contract to Fincantieri on April 30 to do detail design work and build the first frigate in the class. Options for as many as nine more ships would bring the total value to $5.58 billion if exercised. Fincantieri beat out four other competitors with a design based on the FREMM multi-mission frigate already operated by the French and Italian navies. It will build the frigate at its Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin. In October, the class officially received a name, with Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite announcing the first-in-class ship would be USS Constellation (FFG-62) – after it was nearly named USS Agility by former SECNAV Thomas Modly earlier in the year. Though there will be fewer large combatants in the fleet, their mission will remain important: Navy leadership has said the large combatants of the future will haul around the biggest missiles, including hypersonic weapons.

USS Detroit (LCS-7) sails in formation with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Lassen (DDG-82), USS Preble (DDG-88) and USS Farragut (DDG-99) while conducting maritime security operations in the Caribbean Sea. US Navy Photo

The Navy is still struggling to figure out how to get the ship it needs for a price it can afford, given the deemphasis on the large combatant portfolio in future fleet plans. What was once a 2023 start to the Large Surface Combatant program was pushed to 2025 and then 2026 – and this year, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said the large combatant, which he calls “DDG-Next,” will begin detail design in 2026 and construction in 2028. New and important to the DMO concept – and the related Marine Corps concepts of Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO) – are the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) and the Next-Generation Logistics Ship (NGLS) programs that kicked off this year. After some Marine Corps officials had kicked around the idea of a stern-landing vessel for EABO operations last year, in February the Navy included in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget request $30 million each to begin working on the new amphib and new logistics ship.

Sea Transport Solutions Image

Throughout the summer, the vision of what LAW would become grew clearer, as the Marines made the case for small units operating outside the Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit construct. These units would move from shore to shore, providing the joint force forward refueling and rearming capabilities in remote locations, collecting intelligence, providing anti-ship and even anti-submarine strike capabilities, and more. Their small footprint and maneuverability with the LAWs would make them hard for an adversary to detect and hit. By the fall, a cost estimate of about $100 million apiece, as well as requirements for length, storage capacity, crewing and more emerged, showing the dedication to begin buying the ships in FY 2022. According to the long-range shipbuilding plan that accompanied the release of Battle Force 2045, the Next-Generation Logistics Ship would kick off procurement in FY 2023, though much less is known about that new ship compared to the LAW. This medium-sized ship would be able to help resupply the distributed Navy and Marine forces operating under DMO and EABO, while blending in with local merchant traffic and being harder for an adversary to target and disrupt the flow of supplies into theater. It’s unclear how far along the Navy is in developing its requirements. A previous effort for a somewhat larger set of ships to do resupply and other missions, called the Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-mission Platform (CHAMP), has hit several roadblocks as its price tag remains higher than Navy and White House officials are comfortable spending on an auxiliary ship.

Submarines

Virginia-class submarine Delaware (SSN-791) was moved out of a construction facility into a floating dry dock using a transfer car system in 2018. HII Photo

The Navy in November awarded $9.47 billion to General Dynamics Electric Boat to officially start construction on the first ballistic-missile submarine in the Columbia class. This SSBN program is the Navy’s all-important program with no room for error or delays, after all schedule margin was eaten up in the early days of the program and the future USS Columbia (SSBN-826) must be ready for its first patrol in the fall of 2030. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Columbia program remained on track, in a nod to the importance on the program and the Navy prioritizing resources – available workers, materials and money – to keeping this program on track, even if it means attack submarines or aircraft carriers slipping in schedule. Still, though the program has remained on track, the Navy announced last month it was looking at extending the life of the legacy Ohio-class SSBNs – again – to provide a bit of additional capacity for combatant commanders and a bit of cushion in case there are hiccups in the future with the Columbia program. Partly as a result of keeping Columbia on track, the Virginia-class attack submarines slipped further behind in production this year, after already having some schedule delays as the program tried to maintain a two-a-year production rate. Threatening to further challenge the program was a White House proposal to buy just one SSN in FY 2021, which would throw off the workflow for thousands of suppliers trying to smoothly ramp up their production rates to accommodate both the Virginia and the Columbia programs. The White House reversed course in late November and expressed support for a second Virginia sub. Looking towards the future, the Navy this year made headway planning for its Block VI Virginia design – which would add new capability and lethality such as improved stealth and the ability to conduct seabed warfare – as well as the SSN(X) design that would build upon both Block VI and the Columbia SSBN design. All told, the Navy is trying to morph its attack submarine fleet to something closer to the Seawolf class, which was designed to operate deep into Soviet waters and go head-to-head with peer adversary subs, compared to the Virginia class which was originally designed for land-attack and intelligence-collection missions.

Carrier Aviation

Sailors assigned to the air department aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) prepare to launch an F/A-18F Super Hornet attached to the Gladiators of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 during flight operations, March 29, 2020. US Navy Photo

Even as the Navy continued on with its Ford-class carriers this year, questions began swirling about the class’s future and what might come next to either replace or to supplement the Ford-class supercarrier. In March, Modly kicked off a Blue-Ribbon Future Carrier 2030 Task Force to look at the future of aircraft carriers and whether the U.S. Navy would stick with the Ford class beyond the future Doris Miller (CVN-81), whether it would move to a different nuclear-powered carrier design, or whether it would use conventionally powered carriers. Despite the prominent figures on the task force, it was not particularly well received: any reduction in demand for nuclear ship components could break the fragile industrial base, some worried, while others were concerned that the 11-carrier fleet was already overworked today and that the task force could lead to a reduction in CVNs in the future without a reduction in demand for their presence in theater. Though the study itself was canceled just two months later by Acting SECNAV James McPherson, the idea lingered: former Defense Secretary Mark Esper became interested in the notion of a conventionally powered light carrier to supplement the nuclear-powered supercarrier, and after months of study he settled on a plan to field eight to 11 CVNs – possibly down from today’s 11 – and supplement them with as many as six CVLs. He and Navy officials conceded that much work needed to be done to figure out what the CVL would look like and how to balance the two classes of ships.

Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) weapons department bring inert training bombs up to the flight deck during flight operations May 30, 2020. Ford is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting integrated air wing operations. US Navy photo.

Despite the questions about the future of carriers, the Ford-class program continued along, with USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) at times spending more days at sea than in port to conduct post-delivery tests and trials and get ready for full-ship shock trials next summer. Despite PDT&T moving ahead of schedule and the troubled Advanced Weapons Elevators finally coming online in numbers, the Navy fired its CVN-78 program manager and brought in a captain with “proven program management acumen and extensive waterfront experience” to see Ford through its remaining work before being fully turned over to the fleet for a maiden deployment.

Aircraft

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to the ‘Dambusters’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195, prepares to land on the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on Oct. 16, 2020. US Navy Photo

In a major move for carrier aviation, the Navy announced in February in its FY 2021 budget request that it would not continue Super Hornet production beyond the end of the current multiyear contract, which runs through FY 2021. Funding that had been planned for another contract for FY 2022 through 2024 would instead be diverted to “accelerated development of Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) and other key aviation wholeness investments.” With little fanfare, the Navy stood up an NGAD program office under Naval Air Systems Command in May and quickly began industry talks. Though investing in NGAD was the primary reason for ending the Super Hornet line, the Navy also said that stopping new Super Hornet production would free up the production line for Super Hornet life extension work, which the Navy needs to add capability to the jets and keep them around long enough for a replacement to be designed and built.

Sailors assigned to Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron (VRM) 30 direct a CMV-22B Osprey from the ‘Titans’ of VRM 30 on the flight deck of Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on Nov. 20, 2020. US Navy Photo

Supporting a near-term change for the carrier air wing, Bell-Boeing delivered the first CMV-22B Osprey to the Navy in February, allowing the Navy to start a short test and evaluation program before turning the aircraft over to the operational squadron that will support the first deployment in 2021. The Navy needs the CMV-22 to serve as its new carrier onboard delivery (COD) platform because the legacy C-2 Greyhound cannot carry a large F-35C engine; the Osprey could carry the engine out to an aircraft carrier and would also have the added flexibility of being able to bring people and supplies directly to the other ships in the strike group, which can support the V-22 landing on their helicopter decks. USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) will make the first deployment with the F-35C in 2021, so the CMV-22 needs to be ready too for that deployment. Looking a few years out, the Navy is making good progress on its MQ-25A Stingray unmanned carrier-based refueling tanker. In April the Navy exercised a contract option to buy three more aircraft from Boeing, and in December the Stingray made its first flight with the refueling system attached under its wings.

Unmanned Systems

Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV) prototype Sea Hunter pulls into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on Oct. 31, 2018. US Navy Photo

In other unmanned news, the Navy set off down a path to design and build medium and large unmanned surface vessels of its own, after earlier work had been done with Pentagon-purchased USVs. L3 Technologies in July won a $35-million contract to develop a prototype Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV), with options for eight follow-on craft that could bring the contract to a value of $281 million. In September, the Navy awarded six companies contracts to begin determining what the service’s Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle will look like. Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Fincantieri Marinette, Bollinger Shipyards, Lockheed Martin and Gibbs & Cox each won about $7 million for LUSV design studies. Using Pentagon-built prototypes, the Navy operated the Sea Hunter medium USV with a carrier strike group this year, and an Overlord large USV conducted the first-ever autonomous transit of the Panama Canal as it sailed from the Gulf of Mexico to Southern California. In the undersea domain, just this week the Navy released its final request for proposals for the Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) program, with the intention to select a single vendor next year to begin designing and building two prototypes.

Plans and Budgets

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and their carrier strike groups (CSGs) steam in formation on July 6, 2020. US Navy Photo

Though many of these moves in 2020 will be instrumental in creating the fleet the Navy and Marine Corps know they need to deter China or win a fight if needed – especially the unmanned vessels, the light amphib and the frigate – the exact future shipbuilding plans for the Navy are still unclear. After the Navy and Marine Corps wrapped up an Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment in January, Esper did not agree it was the right plan. He ultimately kicked off a Pentagon-led Future Naval Force Study that worked from February to October to look at what the sea services needed to do to be prepared to beat China in a fight in the 2045 timeframe. This effort led to a Battle Force 2045 plan that had all the same themes as the Navy’s original INFSA earlier in the year. The Pentagon couched the differences as a matter of timelines and how aggressively to begin making changes: The Navy had been focused on a 2030 timeframe and what needed to happen quickly to overhaul the fleet in the next decade to support DMO, LOCE and EABO. The Pentagon instead took a longer view meant to incorporate what kind of threat China could ultimately become in the long run and therefore what the Navy and Marines would need to do to counter it – with the expectation that transformation would start now with that 2045 threat in mind. The plan will need buy-in from lawmakers, who have been largely unimpressed with the plans presented to them this year. The original FY 2021 budget request was called “dead on arrival” after it contained the smallest shipbuilding budget in years. The Battle Force 2045 and its accompanying long-range shipbuilding plan was panned for the opposite reason, for being out of touch with budget realities and calling for too quick a naval buildup.