Home » Budget Industry » Navy Could Award 2-Carrier Contract by End of January, With Expected $4B in Savings

Navy Could Award 2-Carrier Contract by End of January, With Expected $4B in Savings

A 2013 artist’s concept of the future carrier Enterprise (CVN-80). DoD Image

This post has been updated to include a statement from Huntington Ingalls Industries.

The clock is now counting down for the Navy to award Newport News Shipbuilding a two-aircraft carrier contract, after the Pentagon formally notified Congress on Dec. 31 that it wanted to pursue the first dual-carrier contract since the late 1980s.

The Navy has been actively pursuing the contracting strategy for the past nine months, saying it had the potential to save as much as $2.5 billion in the deal and more recently stating the deal would save even more than that. Newport News Shipbuilding too said it wanted the deal, but the Pentagon didn’t sign off on it until the Dec. 31 letter to lawmakers.

On Monday the Pentagon sent a certification letter to Congress that outlines the contracting strategy and how much time and money it would allow the Navy to save on hulls CVN-80 and CVN-81. A congressional staffer told USNI News that the combined contracting could save the Navy about $4 billion, well above the original estimates.

With that letter sent, the Navy could award the contract by the end of January.

A Navy spokesman told USNI News that “the Navy has reached a price agreement with Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding for a two-carrier buy of CVN-80 and 81. Further information will be available upon contract award.”

Under the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2019, lawmakers agreed the Navy may enter into a two-carrier contract for CVNs 80 and 81 as long as the secretary of defense certifies at least 30 days ahead of the award of the contract that “the use of such a contract will result in significant savings compared to the total anticipated costs of carrying out the program through annual contracts,” that funding will be available in the budget to allow for both hulls’ purchase, that the design is stable and there is no excessive technical risk, and that the contract will be a fixed-price contract.

Inside the Navy first reported on Dec. 31 that the letter had been sent from the Pentagon to Congress.

Huntington Ingalls Industries spokeswoman Beci Brenton told USNI News, “We are pleased to have come to an agreement with the Navy regarding a two-ship acquisition approach for CVN 80 and 81, a significant step toward building these ships more affordably. Although there is more work to be done, it is important to note that the multi-ship purchase of aircraft carriers helps stabilize the Newport News Shipbuilding workforce, enables the purchase of material in quantity, and permits a fragile supplier base of more than 2000 in 46 states to phase work more efficiently.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a Senate Armed Services Committee member and a proponent of the two-carrier buy from the Virginia-based Newport News Shipbuilding yard, said in a Dec. 31 statement that “I’m thrilled the Navy has decided to pursue a block buy for aircraft carriers, something I’ve been advocating to save billions in taxpayer dollars and offer more certainty to the Hampton Roads defense community. This smart move will save taxpayer dollars and help ensure the shipyards can maintain a skilled workforce to get the job done. Newport News builds the finest carriers in the world, and I know they are ready to handle this increase in work as we make progress toward the Navy’s goal of a 355-ship fleet.”

  • ElmCityAle

    The photo makes me think about why the old Mk-29 launcher is still being deployed on the new class of ships. One would think an 8-cell MK-41 VLS (32 ESSM) or the lightweight MK-56 VLS (16 ESSM) would be better choices with more rounds ready for use at any given time.

    • Duane

      Well, this is just a cartoon, and it dates to 2013, so that’s not necessarily a Mk-29 even if it looks superficially like one. The Navy doesn’t seem to like VLS on carriers for fairly obvious reasons. VLS cells are no more compact or efficient than horizontal or angled cells.

      • DaSaint

        VLS a much more reliable and redundant system. Should there be a problem with the training or elevating mechanism of the Mk29, you’d be limited in the ability to aim and fire the 8-cell system’s missiles. Having VLS mitigates that risk, and increases the amount of SAMs for the same footprint. However, I too think it’s more of a flight-operations issue.

        • Duane

          Actually, no, VLS are less reliable than deck launchers .. they have the added problem of exhaust gas management, which is a significant problem and which is no problem at all for deck launchers that are open air. The problems with the Mk 41 VLS exhaust gas management led to the redesign of the Mk 57 VLS which has an improved gas management system. Most deck launchers in use today have no moving parts to fail – they are simply tubes permanently pointed offship. The newest flush mount designs do move vertically to a firing position, but that’s not a complicated mechanism – far less complicated than the typical deck gun training and elevating mechanisms that actually do point the shells.

          Deck launchers do not “aim” missiles. They simply point them off ship.

          Vertical launchers actually impose a not-insignificant time penalty for air defense missiles due to their tipover to a horizontal profile (which is necessary for shooting down incoming wavetop skimming ASCMs, which is what nearly all ASCMs are today) .. whereas angled or horizontal deck launchers impose no such tipover time penalty. When the incomings are coming in fast and furious, the tipover penalty can be the difference between life and death.

          VLS consume extremely valuable hull interior volume, whereas deck launchers do not. Deck launchers can be bolted onto the main deck, on a sponson, or on top of an aircraft hangar, or on the upper works of the ship’s superstructure, wherever there is space to bolt one on.

          And VLS also present a much greater safety hazard than do deck launchers due to the danger of missile detonation inside the ship where the crew reside. Again, that is the reason for the redesign to the Mk 57, which places the VLS tubes in a single row along the outer perimeter of the hull so that if a missile detonates in the cell it will preferentially blow out through the outer hull rather than blow up the crew and other missiles inside the hull.

          • ElmCityAle

            VLS less reliable than trained launchers with far more moving parts? I doubt the data would support that claim, but also doubt either one of us has access to those data. And trained launchers certainly have to deal with exhaust gas management: they are designed with a large surrounding area, including the deck, that is hardened to “manage” the exhaust. The MK 57 may well have many improvements, but time will tell if it will be deployed on new ships other than the DDG 1000 trio.

          • Andy Ferguson

            Wrong on all counts.

          • DaSaint

            The silliness of your argument is laughable. The VLS systems have very few moving parts – the hatches and the plenum cover. They are MUCH more reliable than a trainable launcher, and much more flexible. Note that a typical Mk 41 VLS can accommodate the entire series of SM missiles, ASROC, VL Tomahawk, VL Harpoon, Quad-Packed ESSM, and probably more items that have yet to be certified.

            Mk 41 differs from Mk 57 not due to ‘problems with Mk 41’, but from a different operational concept.

            There may be a good argument to use Mk29 launchers as opposed to VLS on carriers, due to some operational issues related to flight deck launch operations, but in the long-run my bet will be that even they get replaced with a VLS system of some sort. It just makes sense.

            Get a grip!

    • delta9991

      Spitballing, but I think the main concern is the possibility of a VLS disrupting flight operations. If an ESSM was needed during landing operations, every aircraft over the carrier is now in danger and would need to clear away before launch as opposed to the almost horizontal launch from the MK-29. Nothing an operational change couldn’t fix, but I think it’s viewed as unnecessary because if the carrier has to use its ESSMs we’re already in deep trouble

    • Ed L

      An 8 cell mk-41 VLS with 32 ESSM’s mounted on an angle with an back blast shield would be better. At least with a couple of these mounted a Carrier would stand a better chance against a swarm attack by 30 or more incoming Anti ship missiles.

      • delta9991

        Wouldn’t need the backblast shield with MK-41 as the blast is redirected up between the cells (good image of this on the mark 41 wiki page). Biggest question is still of need. If we have a carrier forced to launch 30 ESSMs, we’ve likely already lost the fight. These missiles (and delivery platforms) will have already had to penetrate a CAP, 3-5 DDGs, and a Tico all of which are being helped and directed by an E-2D/F-35s. Carriers don’t fight in a vacuum… they fight as an integrated team. While more “boom” is always nice, the engineering and integration cost outweigh the likelihood of its requirement (including operation changes for aircraft landing).

        • Duane

          That’s not necessarily so. Today the Ford CVNs are designed to be much less reliant on escorting CGs or DDGs for air defenses. They include launchers for ESSM, multiple 21-cell SeaRAM launchers, and are expected to eventually deploy railguns and directed energy weapons using its huge electrical power plant. Ford CVNs and Zumwalt DDGs are the only ships in today’s Navy fleet designed to deploy the next gen EM weapons.

          The intent is for the Navy to be less reliant on aggregated ship formations, to allow our surface warships to range far and wide from the CVN, disaggregated, but connected via NIFCCA and the F-35s deployed long range from the CVNs.

          That doesn’t mean that the Navy will go “bare” coverage on its CVNs – the Fords will still need at least one AEGIS air and missile defense escort for each CVN … but if only one escort is needed due to beefed up defenses on the CVN, that frees up the other DDGs and CGs to focus on offensive fleet operations.

          • Bubblehead

            Submarines will have a field day with a CVN with only a Tic as protection. A few helos isn’t enough to protect a CVN from Subs. They need the S3’s back to provide standoff protection.

            CVN’s will never have railguns. Where would they put them? On the flight deck?

            Future weapons are increasingly deadly beyond what today’s self defense missiles can protect. Right now and the foreseeable future, large capital surface ships will be increasingly vulnerable. Weapons are just becoming too sophisticated and deadly. Hypersonics, mass drones (including sub surface), supersonic sub missiles, Antiship ballistic missiles, etc. Until lasers can put out enough power to knock ICBM’s & hypersonics at sufficient range things will only get worse. This probably is at least 10 years away before an operational laser can do such things.

            The wave of the future is smaller, less expensive, less crewed ships. FFGX is the future if the USN doesn’t screw it up. Speaking of which, the USN put another nail i the F100 chances coffin. Which by this time is over kill. They announced the FFGX would be state of the art and very deadly but with alot less capacity than AB. The F100 was the one ship that had capacity.

        • The advantages I see would be a reduction in weight per missile carried and a reduction in the amount of maintenance needed to keep the launchers operational.

    • Rocco

      Trying to save money……

  • Curtis Conway

    About time. If you are not about saving tax payer dollars, then you are about capturing more of them.

  • Rob C.

    I hope deal goes well, they name CV-81 the Constellation.

    it be nice see tradition of old American named ships resume their top billing again.

    • Rocco

      I’m all for the name! However putting money into a class that don’t work yet is like buying two used cars because it’s a good deal!

      • Centaurus

        Why build bigger carriers, as bigger targets, with a marginally larger air wing, for more money ? So that Russian and Chinese Anti-shipping can sink them ? This is becoming a sick tragedy in the making. But please, lets put electrically-powered catapults on them, anyway. Oh yeah, I forgot about all the beam weapons that we have yet to install on any deployed combat ship. But wait…they’re on the way 🙂

        • Rocco

          Agreed!! I’m all for a smaller class!! Size doesn’t always matter!!

    • Billy

      Enterprise, Yorktown, Lexington, Ranger, Constellation, Oriskany, Ticonderoga, Saratoga,
      Intrepid, Hornet, Coral Sea, Midway, Kitty Hawk, Shangri-La, Independence,
      America, Antienam, Lake Champlain

    • patriot196

      Personally, I would like to see us honor our WW2 generation, and our history of true carrier warfare by naming the next two Hornet and Yorktown, to sail alongside the Enterprise once again.

      • Rocco

        Can’t use the name as those ships still exists ! Yes museum’s!

    • GAR9

      Probably not as long as there are politicians who other politicians want to honor.

    • Curtis Reese 2969

      You old guys are trying to go back in time. Those days are over. We recently got a George H. W. Bush Gerald Ford and get ready for the USS Barack H. Obama.

      • Rocco

        It’s us old guys that made history & should never be forgotten!! Obama ain’t happening!!

        • Curtis Reese 2969

          Another big disappointment heading your way. You probably would approve of USS Trump

          • Rocco

            Actually no As …Hole ! Not that it’s any of your business!!
            Go find another blog to troll on!!

          • Curtis Reese 2969

            It’s none of your fucking business what I believe either sucker

          • Rocco

            Gfys stecchi ta Nana’!!!!!

  • Chesapeakeguy

    When I see anything that is supposedly about ‘saving money’ when it comes to new ship construction, my ‘BS meter’ usually careens sharply into the red. These are Ford class carriers. Remember them? They still haven’t resolved the significant problems confronting them. While I am confident that in time those problems will be resolved, to think that any savings can be had absent knowing what the costs might be to fix said problems sure seems like whistling in the dark to me…

  • ElmCityAle

    We are discussing two different systems. I’m discussing the MK-29 trainable launcher deployed on carriers, which has many “moving parts”. You are discussing a system that isn’t deployed for ESSM currently on any US Navy ships. Some older ships used by Taiwan have that type of fixed launcher for SM-1 and yes, BAE is promoting a new flush desk launcher system that elevates for firing.

  • Al L.

    A contract for 2 carriers of a class which not only has never done a deployment but has never operationally launched an aircraft, conducted an operational exercise, cannot yet match its 50 year old predecessors capability or capacity and for which the Navy cannot even yet provide a date of operational availability after MORE THAN 15 YEARS of construction and repair and approaching $18 BILLION in cost of the first of class.

    Want an answer as to why our Navy is at risk of second class status at a first class cost?

    We could soon see the Navy having spent more than $50 billion on 6 ships with no operational capability to show for it (3 Zumwalts and 3 Fords) That’s 3 entire years of ship building budgets wasted.

    Its the new Maginot line.

    • Rocco

      Agreed!! If McCain were alive this wouldn’t happen! The smart thing to do would to continue the Nimitz class with some of the technology slowly integrated into the ship as it develops! Not put all eggs in one basket! At taxpayers dime wasted.

  • Your “current deck launchers” don’t exist. Your options for ESSM are either the Mk 29 or a Mk 41 / 48 VLS.

    • ElmCityAle

      MK 56 is the newer replacement for the old 48.

    • NavySubNuke

      He has a hard time understanding the difference between what might some day be and what is. Even before the Navy awarded the Naval Strike Missile contract he went around insisting LCS were out there with NSM’s already because we test fired one once.

  • tom dolan

    I know these ships seem expensive now but remember how outrageous the price for the Nimitz seemed in 1974 or how the Navy in 1960 didn’t think they could afford to build the other five Enterprise class at less then a billion a ship. These are 50 year plus platforms

    • Rocco


      • Centaurus

        Why build bigger carriers, as bigger targets, with a marginally larger air wing, for more money ? So that Russian and Chinese Anti-shipping can sink them ?

  • ebbflowin

    Megan Eckstein uses the word ‘save’ 7 times, including the title, without ever mentioning the estimated $26 billion price tag. Hard journalism right here.

  • johnbull

    I recently had a fascinating conversation with a Newport News employee. He had previously been active duty and had served on several Nimitz-class vessels before going to work for NN Shipbuilding. He had worked on the construction of CVN 78 and was in awe of the ship. Granted it’s second hand, but still an interesting discussion.

    • Rocco

      I would of loved to be part of that conversation. I too run into someone that works or worked in yards especially back in the day when main transportation was by water!! But those guys are dwindling down. I did 2 years in Philly yards when my carrier was in SLEP! Alot of old ships were here at the time, heavy & light cruiser’s, not to mention a BB! , Also DD’s &DE’s ….

    • disqus_EQO9lgJ7C9

      disqus_uCZc9RAGIk gg

  • Bubblehead

    Can anybody (not named LCS Loverboy) answer a few question?
    1) How many YEARS late is the Ford (not months)?
    2) How many BILLIONS over budget is the FORD (not millions)?
    3) Is the Ford so good it is equal to 8 AB’s or 16 FFGX? Or more realistically a Nimitz & 6 FFGX?

    • ChrisLongski

      This deal redresses what you complain about.

  • old guy

    It’s about time we started 3 critically needed programs.
    1. A realistic ship life extension program, SLEP, not driven by lobbyists.
    2. A real requirements program based on exixting and projected world situations not on “Let’s get all the funds we can” as it is now.
    3. Consolidation of our Sea Forces (CG and Navy) and tighten command (fewer Admirals.

    • ChrisLongski

      No to number 3. The missions are too disparate. And the CG is disposed of civil and law enforcement authority. Too specialized to roll into the Navy administratively, but full warship cooperation during wartime…

  • ChrisLongski

    Dear Ms. Eckstein: You look preposterous in military flight gear. If you didn’t serve, take it off…