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Navy switches from composite to steel

Aug. 2, 2013 - 06:49PM   |  
The composite-structure deckhouse of the Zumwalt (DDG 1000) about to be set on the ship at Bath Iron Works in January. The third ship will have a steel deckhouse.
The composite-structure deckhouse of the Zumwalt (DDG 1000) about to be set on the ship at Bath Iron Works in January. The third ship will have a steel deckhouse. (General Dynamics Bath Iron Works)
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WASHINGTON — In a blow for Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), the Navy announced Aug. 2 it was awarding General Dynamics Bath Iron Works a $212 million contract to build a steel deckhouse for the new destroyer Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002), the third and last unit of the stealthy Zumwalt class.

The Zumwalt (DDG 1000) and Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) are being built with composite superstructures and hangars, chosen initially for their lighter weight. The hulls are steel, like those of most other Navy warships.

Although the ships are built at Bath, Maine, the composite structures are made at HII’s facility in Gulfport, Miss. The small shipyard, nearly destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, builds the Zumwalt structures as well as tower masts for LPD 17 San Antonio-class amphibious ships.

The Navy entered into DDG 1002 composite deckhouse negotiations with HII over a year ago, but was unhappy with the price offered by the shipbuilder. A request for proposal was subsequently offered in February for a steel structure. Composite structure negotiations remained stalled, and HII declined to bid on the steel deckhouse.

The switch from composites to steel, the Navy said, was made possible by trimming weight elsewhere in the ship.

“The composite design was initially required to meet weight requirements,” Chris Johnson, a spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), said Aug. 2. “Subsequent to the award of DDG 1000 and 1001 superstructures, sufficient weight removal allowed for the opportunity to provide a steel superstructure, which is a less costly alternative.”

The Navy expects no significant differences from the switch. “No near or long term operational or support impacts are expected,” Johnson said. “Both the composite and steel superstructures will meet the performance requirements. Common equipment is installed for all three ships and similarly arranged within the deckhouse and hangar.”

“The steel superstructure — hangar and deckhouse — for DDG 1002 is a minimal re-design of the DDG 1000/1001 composite superstructure,” Johnson added. “With the exception of using steel in lieu of using composite and the design changes that would be necessary as a result of using steel, the technical baseline will replicate that of DDG 1001.”

The Zumwalt is 84 percent complete and scheduled to be launched later this year. Initial delivery is planned for 2014, although the ship isn’t expected to be fully outfitted until 2016. The Michael Monsoor is 64 percent complete, scheduled for a 2016 delivery.

Fabrication of the Lyndon B. Johnson began in April 2012, with ship delivery planned for 2018.

Four prime contractors are involved with production of the DDG 1000s, according to the Navy. Bath is responsible for design, construction, integration, testing and delivery of the ships. HII is responsible for the fabrication of the composite deckhouse, composite helicopter hangar and aft peripheral vertical launch system for DDG 1000 and DDG 1001. Raytheon is responsible for combat systems, some of the communication systems that are not Navy program of record, total ship computing and software development and mission systems integration. BAE provides the Advanced Gun System and Long Range Land Attack Projectile for the ships.

HII spokesperson Beci Brenton said the company was disappointed with the steel deckhouse award.

“Ingalls Shipbuilding continues to perform well in building the composite products for the DDG 1000 program,” she said Aug. 2. “We demonstrated considerable improvement from the first set of class products to the second set and we are confident this trend would have continued on DDG 1002.

“We are disappointed that we will not build the composite deckhouse and hanger for DDG 1002, but we are committed to working closely with the Navy to complete our work on DDG 1001 by the first quarter of 2014.”

HII delivered the final two units of the aft missile launch system for the Michael Monsoor on July 24, a week earlier than called for in the construction contract.

Loss of the 1,000-ton deckhouse contract could be a death knell for the Gulfport shipyard. The 680-employee facility, originally created to build small Coast Guard cutters as well as major components for larger ships, has struggled to find enough work since the Coast Guard decided against composites, and no major composite-construction contracts are available beyond work currently being done.

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