By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Huntington Ingalls IndustriesInc has left "no stone unturned" in trying to lower thecost of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of a new class ofaircraft carriers to be christened Saturday, a top companyofficial said.
The company is also working hard to apply lessons learnedfrom that first ship to the next one, the USS John F. Kennedy,which is under construction now at Newport News Shipbuilding,said Matt Mulherin, president of the shipyard and corporate vicepresident of Huntington Ingalls.
"You've got to go and take the lessons that you need tolearn from the Ford and ... we're doing that extremely well," Mulherin told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The Navy has pledged to cut the cost of the Kennedy by $1.2billion - excluding non-recurring engineering costs andinflation - from the projected $12.9 billion price tag of theFord, which is 25 percent more than initially expected. Congress has imposed a cost cap of $11.4 billionon the next ship, the Kennedy.
Susan Ford Bales, the late president's daughter, isscheduled to smash a bottle of American sparkling wine acrossthe hull of the city-sized ship on Saturday at a christeningceremony to be attended by hundreds of dignitaries, includingChief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert and formerDefense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Mulherin said his company was carefully tracking labor costsand overtime, and setting strict criteria for performance onevery job in the shipyard as work was completed on the Ford. Theship is about 70 percent complete, and has about 27 more monthsof testing and work ahead before delivery to the Navy.
"We have left no stone unturned," Mulherin said. "We aremonitoring the data on a daily and weekly basis to make sure weunderstand where we are."
He said the company was working closely with the Navy toensure that work on the Kennedy was even more efficient, with alarger percentage of the ship's equipment being assembled inshops and on the dock before being installed on the ship.
Doing more of the work indoors meant more sensitiveelectrical components and other materials could be installedwithout fear of weather damage, he said.
Mulherin said the company is in talks with the Navy aboutbuilding a new manufacturing hall at the yard, a project thatwould cost tens of millions of dollars up front but couldgenerate big savings on the Kennedy and subsequent ships.
The two sides were discussing ways to share the cost ofbuilding the hall, but no agreements had been reached, he said.The Navy has helped fund similar facilities for its submarineprograms to help double the production rate, Mulherin said.
Navy spokeswoman Commander Thurraya Kent declined commentspecifically on the new manufacturing hall, but said the Navywas working closely with the shipyard on "new build strategies"to reduce the cost of the Kennedy and future carriers.
Mulherin said costs for new components were also coming downsince suppliers had already developed them for the Ford.
Newport News was also investing heavily in its apprenticeschool to train new employees, as well as new three-dimensionalsimulators and other technologies aimed at making the productionprocess more efficient, Mulherin said.