Weapons Buyer Backs $4 Billion Huntington Carrier Contract

The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer has approved awarding Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. a contract valued at as much as $4 billion to start building the second in the new Ford class of aircraft carriers.

Frank Kendall issued a decision memo for the Navy to proceed with detailed design and construction of the USS John F. Kennedy and make a down payment on the third carrier in the $42.8 billion program. The memo, signed on Wednesday evening, was obtained by Bloomberg News.

In a victory for the Navy, Kendall directed the service to budget the carrier at its cost estimate of $11.498 billion, keeping it within a cap set by Congress. The Pentagon’s independent cost-assessment office has estimated the ship will exceed the budget cap by at least $370 million.

That would have required the Navy to reduce some of the Kennedy’s planned capabilities or request that Congress increase the cap.

Beci Brenton, a spokeswoman for Newport News, Virginia-based Huntington, said in an e-mail last month that the company expected a contract to be issued by June 30.

The Navy had planned to award the contract by Sept. 30, 2013, but after the cost of the first carrier, the Gerald R. Ford, increased 22 percent since 2010 to about $12.88 billion it extended preliminary work and cooperated with the shipbuilder to reduce costs and improve construction practices.

Shock-Test Decision

Kendall put off for later a decision over when to perform an at-sea test intended to assess how well the new class of carriers stand up to underwater shocks.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and his Democratic counterpart, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, wrote Kendall on March 31 pressing for “full ship” shock testing on the Ford, the first carrier, as urged by the Pentagon’s testing office.

The Navy, which says the test would delay the ship’s deployment by at least six months, wants to conduct it later on the Kennedy.

A draft of the decision memo prepared for Kendall by Pentagon acquisition officials would have directed the Navy to conduct the shock tests on the Ford before its first deployment.

“After careful review and on the recommendation” of the Pentagon’s testing experts “I have concluded that” delaying the test “would delay the acquisition of data that could affect the survivability and resilience of the ship,” the draft said.

Kendall’s final version dropped the test requirement. His spokeswoman, Maureen Schumann, said in an e-mail that the issue of full-ship shock trials will be addressed in a future decision memo.

The Kennedy is to be delivered in early 2022. The Gerald R. Ford is set for delivery in March 2016.

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