The debate over CVN-76, the estimated $4.5 billion nuclear aircraft carrier which would be built at Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) and commissioned in the year 2002, has moved from the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate.

Early indications point to the Nimitz class aircraft carrier becoming a reality, heartening news to many suppliers which have seen once bread-and-butter U.S. Navy business dwindle steadily.

CVN-76 is part of the FY '95 Defense Authorization Bill, dubbed HR 4301 in the House. The House version calls for $3.6 billion for the project from the FY '95 budget. However, one influential senator sought immediately to push that schedule even harder.

Senator Charles S. Robb (DVa.) immediately offered an amendment to restore full funding for CVN- 76. Sen. Robb was pushing to have the Armed Services Committee subcommittee authorize $1.2 billion for CVN-76 from FY '94 defense funds, and the remainder of the money — $2.4 billion — from FY '95 funds. "CVN-76 is key to the Navy's future plans for the defense of the country," Sen. Robb said. "And it is also essential to Virginia's economic future, particularly to the Peninsula and Newport News Shipbuilding." Sen. Robb offered the amendment in the Regional Defense and Contingency Forces Subcommittee mark-up.

While it's logical to reason why state legislators stand squarely behind the CVN-76 project, they by no means constitute the only support for the project. The size and scope of the project would involve millions of dollars in contracts in nearly every state — contracts for suppliers which have been facing U.S.

Navy downsizing (see list of CVN- 76 suppliers). It is reported that the carrier affects 42 states and 120,000 jobs. In FY '92, NNS purchased more than $252 million in goods and services.

"I fully support CVN-76," said Congressman Owen Pickett (DVa.), Second District, Va. "The case has been made for the need of an added carrier to preserve defense needs as well as the industrial base. Carriers are the front line defense for the U.S. Navy..." and we need a steady stream to keep a strong carrier force. Congressman Pickett's comments represent the conventional justification for the new carrier: preserving a strong national defense (i.e. not cutting too much) and preserving NNS's ability to build the ships. Lest it be forgotten that in the "bottom-up review" of the nation's post-Cold War military needs, released last September and approved by President Clinton, then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin called for maintaining a fleet of 12 carriers, which is one fewer than the current fleet.

The Nimitz Class Supercarrier Another argument on the side of funding CVN-76 today is time. Based on the retirement and drydock/overhaul of the current fleet, a CVN-76 funded today will be timed well to maintain fleet strength when it would be commissioned in 2002. Powered by two nuclear reactors which can operate for 20 years without refueling, the typical Nimitz class ship can be operational for about 50 years. This power plant powers the ship via four bronze propellers, each 21 ft. (6.4 m) across and weighing 66,220 lbs., to top speeds in excess of 30 knots.

It takes five years, 47,000 tons of structural steel and about a million lbs. of aluminum to build a carrier. The finished product measures 1,092 ft. (332.8 m) long, and towers 20 stories above the waterline.

Equipment aboard is varied and plentiful, and encompasses a wide variety of products and services to create and maintain the massive military entity, as well as house and maintain the approximately 6,000 sailors and airmen aboard. For example, ship requirements include: a distillation plant aboard providing 400,000 gallons of fresh water from sea water daily; nearly 30,000 light fixtures; 2,000 telephones; and 900 miles of cable and wiring.

NNS built the first ship designed as an aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger, in 1934, and the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, in 1961. Newport News Shipbuilding is the sole builder of the Nimitz class carriers. For more information Newport News Shipbuilding, Circle 40 on Reader Service Card

Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction History

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