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$520 million in construction at Norfolk Naval Shipyard aims to meet needs of high-tech warships

An aerial view of the U.S. Navy Norfolk Naval Shipyard located on the Elizabeth River, Virginia. (Robert J. Sitar/U.S. Navy)

More than half a billion dollars in construction is in the works at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth as the Navy modernizes the historic yard to repair current and future high-tech warships.

Norfolk Naval Shipyard, with roots dating back to 1767, is about five years into a modernization process to better support the maintenance of Ford-class aircraft carriers and Ohio-, Virginia- and Columbia-class submarines.

The modernization will allow the shipyard to get warships battle-ready at a quicker pace, Mark Edelson, program executive officer for industrial infrastructure, told the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance during a meeting last week. The Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program is overseeing the once-a-century rehabilitation of dry docks, reconfiguration of infrastructure and replacement of industrial plant equipment at the Navy’s four shipyards, which conduct maintenance on nuclear-powered warships.

“The sailors out at sea, the weapons platforms they need to have  — that always gets priority,” Edelson said. “Unfortunately, we have got to take care of the house, and the garage, and the maintenance back home as well.”

Around 40 projects, totaling $520 million under contract, are in progress at the Portsmouth shipyard, Edelson said. By the time the Navy program outlines the shipyard’s master plan in 2026, he said he expects the number of projects to double.

The master plan includes revitalizing the entire shipyard from its dry docks to production buildings to employee parking lots. The effort also aims to trim the amount of time shipyard workers spend tracking down parts and tools by changing the layout of the yard. Data models, Edelson said, have shown reconfiguring the layout of the yard will shorten submarine maintenance availabilities by about 90 days, trimming the ship’s overall time in the yard by 5-10%.

A group of projects well underway is the renovation of Dry Dock 8, which is being outfitted to handle the Navy’s newest carriers.

The USS Gerald R. Ford is the first new class of aircraft carrier designed in over four decades, ushering in a new generation of warships. The second Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy, is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in summer 2025, and the third, the Enterprise, will be delivered in September 2029. The new carriers are 4 feet wider and displace 3,000 tons more than their Nimitz-class predecessors.

Dry Dock 8, which dates to 1942, will undergo four major projects to accommodate the first-in-class warship and future Ford-class carriers. The dock will see saltwater cooling system upgrades, pump repairs and caisson updates to allow faster, more controlled flooding of the dock. Additionally, $90 million will be invested to repair the two berths adjacent to the dock.

The shipyard broke ground on the $300 million renovation in February 2023. The program also secured $128 million for a saltwater cooling system from the 2023 and 2024 defense budgets. The project, Edelson said, is ahead of schedule with completion planned by 2027 — before the Ford would be scheduled for a maintenance availability.

The modernization program completed a $191 million renovation of Dry Dock 4, the shipyard’s largest submarine dry dock, one year ago. Dry Dock 4 was the first of three dry docks built in 1919 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard during its World War I-era expansion. The dock, the Navy said, will support the overhauls of Ohio-, Virginia- and Columbia-class submarines for decades to come.

The program brought 66 new industrial equipment pieces to the shipyard since 2018, totaling $149 million in investment. And in 2022, the program oversaw the construction of a $73.3 million training facility that consolidates training previously spread across several different areas in the shipyard.

More projects are in the pipeline. A request to fund a $54 million renovation of Dry Dock 3 was included in the Navy’s 2025 budget. The renovations of the dock would support Los Angeles-class and Virginia-class submarines.

“We have got to keep these things going for the next generation,” Edelson said.

Edelson’s update to the Hampton Roads organization came one day after Nickolas Guertin, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said he would give the Navy’s public shipyards a C-plus on their ability to repair warships damaged in a major conflict. Guertin spoke before the House Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee last week after the Navy released a 2025 proposed budget that would delay ship and submarine building to spend more on addressing overall supply chain and contractor workforce needs.

Delaying shipbuilding means Navy shipyards will feel increased pressure to keep older ships operational, Bryan Clark, defense analyst for the Hudson Institute, told The Virginian-Pilot. The Navy could keep around some of its older Los Angeles-class submarines, he said, but they would need to enter overhaul maintenance.

“But they can’t go into an overhaul because the shipyards are packed full,” Clark said.


© 2024 The Virginian-Pilot

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