National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) late last week held the keel-laying ceremony for the first ship in the T-AKE program, a new class of combat logistics force ships designated the Lewis and Clark class. "The keel-laying ceremony signifies the exciting beginning of a long production run on a new class of ships," said Richard Vortmann, president of NASSCO. "The T-AKE contract will have a profound economic impact on NASSCO and San Diego," he added, "providing sustained employment for 1,500 to 1,800 NASSCO employees and contributing millions of dollars in payroll, tax revenues and purchases from local suppliers every year during the life of the contract, which could run through 2010." The U.S. Navy has awarded NASSCO contracts for six of these new dry cargo/ammunition ships for a total contract value of $1.87 billion. The T-AKE contract includes options for an additional six ships, eventually creating a 12-ship fleet of new combat logistics force ships. If all the options are exercised, the 12-ship program would have a total value of $3.7 billion and become the largest contract in NASSCO’s history. U.S. Navy Capt. Patricia Sudol, Navy program manager for the T-AKE program, welded her initials into the keel to signify the start of erection of the ship. Delivery of the first T-AKE, to be named the Lewis and Clark, is scheduled for 2005. The T-AKE is the first new combat logistics force ship designed for the Navy in almost 20 years. 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. Working closely with the Military Sealift Command, whose civilian mariners will operate the T-AKE, and the Naval Sea Systems Command, the Navy’s program manager and technical authority, NASSCO has spent the past two years developing the design. In addition to the six T-AKEs, NASSCO is building four double-hull oil tankers for BP Shipping Company of Alaska. "Our 10-ship backlog affirms NASSCO's position as the leading U.S. builder of commercial ships and the U.S. Navy’s ‘Center of Excellence’ for the construction of auxiliary and support ships," Vortmann added.