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Is ‘Big E' work breaking the bank?

Apr. 4, 2010 - 09:14AM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 4, 2010 - 09:14AM  |  
The aircraft carrier Enterprise, here returning to Naval Station Norfolk, Va., in December 2007 after its most recent deployment, has been in dry dock since April 2008.
The aircraft carrier Enterprise, here returning to Naval Station Norfolk, Va., in December 2007 after its most recent deployment, has been in dry dock since April 2008. (MCSN JOSHUA ADAM NUZZO / NAVY)
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ABOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HARRY S. TRUMAN — The half-billion-dollar program to keep the aircraft carrier Enterprise in service so it could do one final float is 31 percent over budget, seven months overdue, and has stretched and pulled the deployments of other carriers.

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ABOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HARRY S. TRUMAN — The half-billion-dollar program to keep the aircraft carrier Enterprise in service so it could do one final float is 31 percent over budget, seven months overdue, and has stretched and pulled the deployments of other carriers.

And the shockwaves go beyond deployment schedules.

Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in April 2008 was awarded a $453.3 million contract for the 16-month extended dry dock availability. Twenty-four months later, Big E has yet to return to service, and 11 contract modifications have increased costs by $140.1 million.

Because of the delay, Nimitz, which deployed from San Diego on July 31, saw its cruise stretched to eight months. The Dwight D. Eisenhower group, having deployed for five months in 2009, deployed again to the Middle East in January. The Harry S. Truman is slated to go any day, and it will conduct its second eight-month deployment in as many years.

The shift has been hard on Truman, which was fully qualified and ready to deploy in October. It will instead deploy in April, and has lost nearly one-third of its Battle "E"-winning crew during the delay. Among those who have transitioned are five of 19 department heads and the ship's command master chief.

"We're exactly like every other Nimitz-class carrier. We're 95,000 tons of steel, technology, two nuclear reactors — the only thing that makes this carrier a Battle ‘E'-winning carrier is the crew and the leadership on this ship," said Capt. John "Oscar" Meier, Truman's executive officer. "You may have this great, steady and stable team, but when you start to move the pieces around it presents a very unique challenge."

Meier said he is confident the crew will succeed because it is tackling the problems head-on, ensuring all manning and qualifying requirements are met in the time leading up to deployment.

Capt. Joe Clarkson, Truman's skipper, said he is most concerned about the stress the deployment shift puts on the crew and their families. He knows their pain — his daughter will graduate from college in a month, and he has no idea whether he can attend her ceremony.

"I know there are 3,000 stories on board just like that," he said.

Big bills for Big E

The Navy agreed to pay $453.3 million for the Extended Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability of the carrier Enterprise on April 11, 2008. A breakdown of the 11 modified contracts in excess of $5 million awarded to Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding Inc. since then shows more than $140.1 million in additional expenses.

• Dec. 9, 2008: $12 million for emergent and supplemental work.

• April 29, 2009: $6 million for emergent and supplemental work.

• May 22, 2009: $21 million for the accomplishment of the EDSRA.

• June 15, 2009: $14.5 million for planned and growth supplemental work.

• Aug. 3, 2009: $7 million for planned and growth supplemental work.

• Aug. 10, 2009: $28 million for planned and growth supplemental work.

• Oct. 20, 2009: $7 million for planned and growth supplemental work.

• Nov. 13, 2009: $6 million for the accomplishment of the EDSRA.

• Dec. 3, 2009: $6 million for planned and growth supplemental work.

• Feb. 23: $19.4 million for planned and growth supplemental work.

• March 30: $13.2 million for planned and growth supplemental work.

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