The Navy needs to stay on the five-year buy rate for aircraft carriers to keep a strong industrial base and an efficient transition from building one carrier to the next, the president of Newport News Shipbuilding said last week.

Widening the gap between procuring the carriers could cause costs to rise and diminish the strength of the workers and their skill set as they may be forced to seek jobs elsewhere, Matt Mulherin, who runs the shipyard owned by Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII], told reporters on conference call.

“If the time elapses and it’s going to be long enough they are not going to wait around,” Mulherin said. Ideally, it would be best to transition works from the completed carrier to beginning work on a new one, he said.

NNS is the only builder of large-deck, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. NNS is currently building the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78), the first in a class of new carriers. The John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) is the next ship in the Gerald R. Ford-class and the shipyard has already receiving funding for construction preparation and long lead items, Mulherin said.

There are concerns the budget cuts could impact the annual build-rate for Navy’s ships, including the Virginia-class (SSN-774) attack subs. The Navy for the first time in two decades upped the rate to two per year in fiscal 2011, which ended Sept. 30. The SSN-774s are built by General Dynamics [GD] Electric Boat and NNS.

The Gerald R. Ford-class is intended to replace the Nimitz-class, which makes up almost all of the current carrier fleet. While it features the same hull design as Nimitz, the latest class will advanced capabilities like the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System. It is also designed to reduce operation and maintenance costs by $5 billion over the 50-year life of the ship.

Mulherin said the CVN-78 was 60 per cent complete and built up to the hangar floor. It is scheduled for delivery in 2015. The Navy’s program of record calls issuing the construction contract for CVN-79 in fiscal 2013 with the ship set for delivery in 2020.

“We are moving forward in discussions with the Navy,” Mulherin said, adding he was optimistic the timeframe would be met.