By Geoff Fein

NEWPORT NEWS, Va.–Delivery of CVN-77, the George H.W. Bush, will be approximately one month late, but Northrop Grumman [NOC] will have the ship ready for the January commissioning, according to a company official.

The last of the Nimitz-class carriers is in the final throws of construction at Northrop Grumman’s Newport News (NGNN) shipyard. Navy personnel will begin this month to ready the galleys and begin testing systems.

“We are simultaneously building the ship and qualifying components,” Scott Stabler, Northrop Grumman’s vice president of CVN-77, told Defense Daily during a tour of the carrier.

Three shifts of workers are installing wiring and flooring, painting, moving in furniture and computers, installing the arresting cables and readying the flight deck.

Stabler said there are challenges with getting all the technology inserted, but it is getting done.

Northrop Grumman’s decision to delay delivery by one month will enable the company to complete work in some areas of the ship now, instead of when the carrier enters post shakedown availability, Matthew Mulherin, vice president and general manager for Northrop Grumman, told Defense Daily last week.

“[We are] pushing toward a December delivery of Bush. The advertised date was 11-11, but it proved to be a little too much between delivery and today to make that date,” Mulherin said. “The key is we have to support an early January ’09 commissioning date.”

Northrop Grumman is looking at Jan. 10 for the Bush commissioning, a company spokeswoman said.

Currently, Newport News’ labor resources are about the highest they have ever been, he added.

“In the south yard we have three ships that deliver between now and next March,” Mulherin said. “The Bush, Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and Toledo (SSN-769). So we are just pouring resources into those things to get them done.”

NGNN officials are trying to make sure the yard can come through the current peak in labor, knowing that once those three ships deliver, there will be a drop in work, Mulherin said.

He added that overtime is running “real high.”

“We’ve got a lot of leased and subcontracted folks in the yard, so you can come through there without having big huge perturbations to the workforce,” Mulherin added.

Besides work being done on Bush, Vinson and Toledo, the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) is awaiting her turn at overhaul, and work has begun on the next- generation aircraft carrier, CVN-78, the Gerald Ford.

In preparation for construction of the new design carrier, Northrop Grumman invested in new facilities. A new facility for producing and flattening heavy plats for the Ford was the first new building, S.I. Vreeland, construction manager of CVN-21, told Defense Daily.

The company is wrapping up modification of its 900-ton crane to now carry up to 1,050 tons, he said.

During a tour of the shipyard, Vreeland pointed out sections of CVN-21 that are in the process of, or have been completed.

One-third of the 1,200 structural units on the ship are already in process, Vreeland noted. “They are already being worked.”

“Structurally, one-third of the ship is already somewhere in manufacture start, before we even sign the contract,” he added. “We have 273 totally complete. Today, I have three to four already joined into super lifts and a couple already complete with pipe installed waiting to have the pipes tested and start blasting the fuel tanks. Those units won’t go to the dock until early ’10, but they will be complete.”

Northrop Grumman and the Navy anticipates contract award for CVN-78 to occur this fall.

Already personnel are having discussions about how they can maximize pre-outfitting on CVN-79, Vreeland said.

“CVN-79…we will have the design and advanced construction contract before the end of this calendar year,” Mulherin said.

“It’s very much a mod repeat. Nonetheless, there a is a lot of work there to pump out drawings, buy material, pay attention to obsolesence…that stuff refreshes awfully fast,” he said.

NNGN will lay the keel for the Ford in November ’09. Four years later, the shipyard will lay the keel for CVN-79.

“It’s almost as soon as 78 comes out of dock. It’s almost within six-months [that] you lay keel for [CVN-] 79,” Mulherin said.

It is envisioned that the Ford-class will be a class of 10 ships, he added.