Navy cost-cutting effort could have impact on shipyard

GULFPORT — A money-saving move by the U.S. Navy has officials at Huntington Ingalls Industries unsure of the future for the company’s Gulfport shipyard, which employs 650 people.

The Composite Center of Excellence held the first two contracts to build deckhouses for Zumwalt-class destroyers, but lost the third to General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works in Maine. The Gulfport plant also builds composite masts for the Navy’s San Antonio (LPD 17) class of amphibious ships.

“The company is currently evaluating the future utilization of this facility based upon the U.S. Navy’s decision,” Ingalls Shipbuilding spokesman Bill Glenn told The Sun Herald.

The deckhouse, hanger and some launching system modules for the first two destroyers were built in Gulfport. But the contract for those parts of the third destroyer went to General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works in Maine.

Ingalls has delivered steel components for the second destroyer, which is being built at Bath Iron Works. Ingalls is building the composite deckhouse and hangar in Gulfport.

The Navy moved from composites to steel to save money on construction, said Chris Johnson, a spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command.

The composite, of carbon fiber materials with balsa wood cores, is as strong as steel but requires little maintenance and is very lightweight, according to Huntington Ingalls. A company news release said it is corrosion resistant, cutting maintenance costs, and its lightness improves hull stability, allows more payload and higher speed.

Johnson said the Navy had been using the composites to meet stability requirements.

“As we’ve constructed the first ship and we’ve made some minimal changes in design we’ve determined that we had enough weight margin that we could go with steel,” Johnson said. “It was the cheaper option; that’s the way we went.”

Bath Iron Works’ contract for the first two destroyers, is $1.8 billion, Johnson said. It will get an additional $212 million for the steel work on the third.

“HII was only under contract for the two composite deckhouses, two composite hangars, and two sets of steel aft missile-launching cells,” he said. Johnson said Huntington Ingalls’ estimate for those two assemblies totaled $767 million, Johnson said.

Johnson could not comment on the Navy’s future use of the Gulfport plant.

“It’s difficult to say. I’d hate to make a statement that would say either way,” he said. “Any time we design a new ship class we’re going to look at all the potential, all the options.”

In October, Huntington Ingalls announced delivery of the composite deckhouse for the destroyer Zumwalt, the first in its class.

“This is a significant delivery in the history of Ingalls Shipbuilding,” program manager Steve Sloan said in a 2012 press release. “Building composite ship structures takes a very unique skill-set and work ethic, and the men and women in Gulfport have done an outstanding job. This is one of the largest carbon composite structures ever built, and we are delivering a fine product with the utmost quality.”

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