Watch shipbuilders place the final 780-ton piece of the flight deck for the US Navy's next $11 billion supercarrier
- Shipbuilders recently completed the primary hull of the new USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier by installing the 780-ton upper bow, the last piece of the flight deck.
- The Kennedy is the second Ford-class carrier the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford, which is stuck in maintenance due to problems, most notably the advanced weapons elevator.
- While the Ford-class carrier program has faced setbacks, Huntington Ingalls Industries insists that it has leveraged the lessons learned from the Ford and that the Kennedy is on schedule to launch in the fourth quarter.
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The shipbuilders tasked with constructing the US Navy's next supercarrier have finished installing the flight deck, using a massive crane to place the final 780-ton piece.
The USS John F. Kennedy will be the Navy's second Ford-class aircraft carrier after the USS Gerald R. Ford, which has been delayed due to unexpected problems and increased maintenance demands. The installation of the JFK's upper bow at Newport News Shipbuilding earlier this month completed the carrier's main hull, which, at a length of 1,096 feet, is longer than three football fields.The final piece weighed nearly 800 tons - as much as 13 main battle tanks - and took a year and a half to build. Huntington Ingalls Industry (HII) released a video of the installation.
More than 3,200 shipbuilders and 2,000 suppliers are involved in the construction of the Kennedy, which will, if everything goes according to plan, be launched later this year.
"The upper bow is the last superlift that completes the ship's primary hull. This milestone is testament to the significant build strategy changes we have made - and to the men and women of Newport News Shipbuilding who do what no one else in the world can do," Mike Butler, the program director for the Kennedy construction project, said in a HII statement.
While the US is not the only country to field aircraft carriers, no other country has built anything that even comes close to the new nuclear-powered Ford-class supercarriers.
China's only operational carrier, for instance, is a previously-discarded Soviet ship that China transformed into the country's first flattop. Russia's situation is even worse: It's only carrier is out of action and the foreign-made dry dock used to repair it.Read more: China's aircraft carriers have a boatload of glaring weaknesses - but the next carrier could be a 'huge step forward'
While the US force of 11 carriers is much more modern and capable, the Ford-class carriers have certainly had their share of problems.
Last month, US lawmakers expressed concern after learning that the Ford and the Kennedy would not be able to deploy with the stealthy fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters when the carriers are first delivered to the Navy. A congressional staffer told reporters that it's "unacceptable to our members that the newest carriers can't deploy with the newest aircraft."
And, in May, the Navy admitted that the advanced weapons elevators on the Ford, systems required to quickly move ordnance to the flight deck to increase the aircraft sortie rate and the overall lethality of the ship, will not be working properly when the carrier leaves the shipyard to rejoin the fleet in October.
Maintenance on the Ford was expected to wrap up in July, but problems with the ship's propulsion system, elevators, and a few other areas resulted in unplanned delivery delays.
HII says that it has leveraged the lessons learned from its work on the Ford and insists that the Kennedy is on schedule to launch in the fourth quarter of this year; the JFK's construction is estimated to cost at least $11.4 billion.