Indecision On GW Carrier Refueling Will Delay Overhaul, Says Shipbuilder

(NATIONAL DEFENSE 08 APR 14) … Stew Magnuson

About one-third of the Newport News Shipbuilding yard’s business comes from serving, refueling and deactivating the nation’s nuclear powered aircraft carriers.

So when the U.S. government sends signals that it may decommission one of the Navy’s carriers rather than overhaul it and send it back to sea, it creates a big logistical problem for Newport News, which is part of the Huntington Ingalls Industries.

At issue is the fate of the USS George Washington (CVN-73), which, depending on whether Congress continues with deep budget cuts under sequestration past 2015, may be inactivated rather than come to Newport News for a refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) work in 2016. Such a decision would put the carrier fleet one short of the 11carriers mandated by Congress.

The Navy has indicated that it may not decide the fate of the George Washington until next year. A year of indecisiveness is the same as a year’s delay in putting the aircraft carrier back to sea, said Ken Mahler, vice president of Navy programs at Newport News Shipbuilding.

“If we had started now, everything would have come in on time. But everything is moving (back) day by day,” he said at a briefing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference.

One aircraft carrier comes into the yard for an RCOH every four years, which is about the same as the build cycle, he said. It takes 44 months to complete the refueling and overhaul.

Advance planning, which includes fabrication of materials, procurement, engineering and development when it arrives in dock, should have already begun, Mahler said.

“We are preparing to start planning for George Washington RCOH. That is a significant concern for Newport News, the industrial base, the Navy,” he said. “We need to see this heel-to-toe execution of the RCOHs to deploy and maintain the law of 11 carriers. The Navy and Congress, everything I see in the media, everyone who I have an opportunity to talk to, wants and needs 11 carriers,” he said.

The 2014 budget already has $243 million available for advance planning and material procurement for the George Washington. However, the Navy is withholding most of that because there is no RCOH budgeted in 2015 and beyond, Mahler said.

“Newport News would like to use that ‘14 funding, or our portion of it, to plan … to begin that effort – per the plan of record – to preserve the workforce, to roll efficiencies forward,” he said.

So far, it is only authorized to prepare for de-fueling, which must take place regardless of whether the Navy decides to overhaul the carrier. It has been given $43 million to begin that process. That is only sufficient for the first year of planning for de-fueling. More money would be required, he said.

“The Navy feels that other monies expended this year may not be the best use if the boat is ultimately inactivated,” he said.

“This ship will not come in on time if we pause for a year,” he said. It takes 30 months from when the decision is made to when the yard is able to support the refurbishment. The same is true for inactivation.

“From a cost, affordability, rhythm, efficiencies, stability, national need, law, we really expect the right things will get done eventually, and we will get a RCOH back under planning for the GW,” Mahler said.

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