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Keel laying for future carrier JFK set for Saturday

The naval legacy of the 35th president will begin a new chapter on Aug. 22 with the keel laying of carrier John F. Kennedy. The event will host a number of Navy and congressional leaders, and will include a video from JFK’s daughter Caroline Kennedy, the ship’s sponsor and ambassador to Japan.

While Laying a keel is the symbolic beginning of a ship’s construction, but work on the next second-in-class supercarrierJFK actually started in 2010. To date, more than 450 of her 1,100 structural units have been constructed, according to Newport News Shipbuilding. The carrier, the second in the Gerald R. Ford-class, is scheduled to launch in February 2020 and be delivered in June 2022.

Kennedy will be nearly an exact replica of Ford — she will employ the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, boast an electrical output three times that of the Nimitz-class, and have a redesigned flight deck that gained 8,000 square feet and promises a 25-percent increase in daily sorties over current flattopscarriers. Innovative Work-saving technologies have cut the ship’s company to 2,600 sailors, about 700 fewer than the typical carrier. They will live in 40-man berthing areas (current carriers today cram as many as 180 into a berthing area) with attached heads and common areas.

Ford’s $12.9 billion price tag was cut to $11.35 billion for JFK. Lessons learned and the transfer of specially built tools from Ford will decrease construction man hours by 18 percent, officials said. Having the ship’s complete design from the start also gave the Navy better purchase power when buying materials in bulk, which translated to a nearly 15 -percent reduction in material cost; the Navy is under mounting pressure to keep ballooning costs down on the Ford-class.

JFK opted out of Ford’s dual-band radar, a move that will cut hundreds of millions from the bottom line. Rear Adm. Thomas Moore, program executive officer for aircraft carriers, has called dual-band an "incredible" radar, but "probably a little bit of overkill for an aircraft carrier." The Navy planned to leverage its dual-band radar buying power off the now-canceled DDG-1000 program for DDG-1000.

Despite numerous similarities, JFK will have notable improvements. Ford has done away with nearly all of its hydraulics, the exception being its aircraft elevators. Kennedy will make that switch and use electric elevators. The new carrier will also have more flexible infrastructure, meaning spaces can be quickly transformed and tailored to meet any need.

This is the second carrier to be named for Kennedy, who as a lieutenant junior grade commanded Patrol Torpedo Craft 109 in World War II. The first carrier served from 1968 to 2007, and was the last conventionally-powered carrier built by the Navy. Her combat actions and contributions include:

  • Support of Beirut operations in 1983.
  • The Jan. 4, 1989, shoot-down by F-14 Tomcats of two Libyan Mig-23s that approached the battle group in a hostile manner.
  • 11,263 combat hours in support of Operation Desert Storm (1991). Aircraft flew 2,895 sorties with 114 strikes that delivered more than 3.5 million pounds of ordnance.
  • 2,599 missions that delivered more than 64,000 pounds of ordnance on Taliban and al-Qaida targets in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (2002).
  • 4,396 sorties and 11,607 flight hours were in direct support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (2004).

The carrier was decommissioned Aug. 1, 2007, and transferred to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. She still contributes to the fight however. Most recently, the air department from carrier Abraham Lincoln recycled parts from JFK to repair the ship's flight deck fueling station and its two JP-5 fuel pump rooms.

The new JFK will be followed by a new Enterprise. The president's fiscal 2016 budget request included $875 million for advance procurement that will purchase the propulsion plant and long-lead material. A construction contract is expected to be signed in fiscal 2018, with a new Ford-class carrier contracted every five years from that point.

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