While the future funding of the U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ship program remains unclear, Austal USA shows no signs of altering its aggressive production plans at its Mobile shipyard.
In fact, the Australian shipbuilder’s U.S. headquarters on the Mobile River hosted a recent keel-laying ceremony for the future USS Tulsa.
Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle said he is amazed by how quickly the sixth Independence-variant LCS is coming together. Austal is building the ships under a $3.5 billion, 10-ship block buy contracted awarded in 2010.
“The speedy construction of this amazing ship is evidence of the rapid maturity of Austal’s LCS program, a testament to the extreme level of talent and experience displayed by Austal’s shipbuilding team,” Perciavalle said.
With roughly 4,000 employees, the shipbuilder is Mobile’s largest private employer.
During the Jan. 11 ceremony, ship sponsor Kathy Taylor, former Tulsa mayor and chief executive officer of ImpactTulsa, authenticated the keel by welding her initials onto an aluminum plate that will be placed on the hull of the ship.
Austal USA is fulfilling as prime contractor a $3.5 billion contract with the U.S. Navy alongside General Dynamics Mission Systems for 10 aluminum-hulled, Independence-class littoral combat ships. Lockheed Martin and shipbuilder Marinette Marine, meanwhile, are partnered to construct and outfit an equal number of steel-hulled Freedom-class variants.
To date, Austal-built Independence-variant ships USS Independence, USS Coronado and USS Jackson have entered service; Montgomery and Gabrielle Giffords are preparing for builders trials later this year; Omaha was christened Dec. 19; Manchester will complete final assembly and prepare for launch later this year; and modules for Charleston are under construction.
Meanwhile, Austal is building 10 Expeditionary Fast Transports, known as EPF, for the Navy under a separate $1.6 billion block-buy contract, the first of which for 2016 – USNS Brunswick – was delivered Thursday.
Austal Chief Executive Officer Andrew Bellamy called the milestone a testament to the dedication and skill of the local workforce.
“The EPF program is now mature and stable. The entire team at Austal USA has much to be proud of in achieving this. It’s a great ship and a great program,” Bellamy said in a prepared statement.
To date, five Austal USA-built EPFs – the USNS Spearhead, Choctaw County, Fall River, Millinocket and Trenton – have been delivered to the Navy with both the USNS Spearhead and USNS Millinocket deployed supporting naval fleet operations. The 338-foot-long aluminum catamarans are designed to be fast and flexible carriers of troops, equipment and humanitarian relief.
Three additional EPF remain under construction in Mobile, including the future USNS Carson City christened Saturday.
The ship is the Navy’s second to be named after Nevada’s capital, and the ceremony will feature ship sponsor Susan Asbury Crowell, the daughter of U.S. Air Force Col. Robert Asbury and wife of Capt. Robert Crowell (USN-Ret.).
Meanwhile, modules for the future USNS Yuma and USNS Bismarck are under construction, and work will begin on the future USNS Burlington before year’s end.