National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) has begun construction on the first ship in the T-AKE program, a new class of combat logistics force ships designated the Lewis and Clark class. "The T-AKE is the first new combat logistics force ship designed for the Navy in almost 20 years," said Richard Vortmann, president of NASSCO. "It is the first to combine lower-cost commercial ship design features with high-performance, proven international marine technologies such as integrated electric-drive propulsion." The T-AKE is a dry cargo/ammunition ship that will be operated by the Military Sealift Command. An underway replenishment ship, the T-AKE will support the Navy's Sea Power 21 vision of seabasing, providing logistic lift from sources of supply either in port or at sea and transferring cargo - ammunition, food, fuel, repair parts, and expendable supplies and material - to station ships and other naval forces at sea. With convertible cargo holds and cargo transfer systems capable of handling food and stores or ammunition, the T-AKE will replace two classes of aging cargo ships that are nearing the end of their service lives: T-AE ammunition ships and T-AFS combat stores ships. To date, NASSCO has been awarded contracts with a total value of $1.3 billion to build four Lewis and Clark-class ships. NASSCO's T-AKE contract has options exercisable by the Navy for eight additional ships over the next five years for a potential contract value of approximately $3.7 billion. If all options are exercised, the program will give NASSCO a firm backlog through 2010 and provide jobs for 1500-1800 production employees during that period. The T-AKEs will be 689 ft. (210 m) in length and 105.6 ft. (32.2 meters) in beam, with a design draft of 9.12 meters (29.9 feet). The ships will carry almost 7,000 metric tons of dry cargo and ammunition and 23,500 barrels of marine diesel fuel. The T-AKEs have been designed to maximize cargo-handling efficiency and minimize the costs of operation and maintenance over their expected 40-year life. NASSCO is a leading builder of auxiliary and support ships for the Navy.