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Austal USA gets $156 million contract to build more steel Navy ships

A plasma cutter at Austal USA makes the "first cut" in plating that will become part of the Mobile shipyard's first steel ship. (Lawrence Specker/

Mobile shipyard Austal USA, which recently made the “first cut” on the Navajo-class vessel that will be its first steel ship for the U.S. Navy, has received a $156 million contract option to build two more of the ships.

Austal already had two of the Navajo-class ships under contract, so the new award brings the work in hand to four. The Navajo class, which is designated the T-ATS by the Navy, consists of multipurpose vessels primarily intended for use in salvage, towing and rescue operations. Austal is the second yard to construct them, joining a Louisiana shipyard that is building the first five.

“The T-ATS program is special to our team as it represents the start of construction of a new class of ship for our shipbuilding team,” said Austal USA President Rusty Murdaugh. “This contract is important because it provides us the backlog to really optimize production over the course of these four ships.”

The Navy also has given Austal USA a contract to build a large floating dry dock. More recently the yard received a contract to build Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), a deal that could be worth billions if that service exercises all its options. The Florida shipyard building the first few OPCs has filed a formal protest of the Coast Guard’s decision, according to the U.S. Naval Institute News and other sources.

Having years’ worth of work on order for its new steel production line is important for Austal, which faced dwindling prospects as an all-aluminum shipbuilder. The end is in sight for its work on Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships, and no comparable large aluminum ship program has emerged to follow.

Last week, Austal officially delivered LCS 32, the future USS Santa Barbara, to the Navy. LCS 32 is the 16th of 19 that Austal will build. According to information released by Austal, LCS 34 recently was launched, final assembly is under way on LCS 36 and the yard has begun constructing modules for LCS 38, the last ship of the class. Austal build another aluminum ship for the Navy, the Expeditionary Fast Transport, and has orders for several more of those.

Murdaugh said earlier in July that Austal USA’s work force currently includes about 2,800 people, and he expects that to rise with the new steel programs. That will happen in a “phased approach,” he said. Engineers and designers will be needed first, followed by an increase in manufacturing jobs.


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