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New Aircraft Carrier to Be Christened in March '01; Sea Trials by '03.

The Navy's USS Ronald Reagan is scheduled to be christened in Newport News, Va., on March 4. The 100,000-ton aircraft carrier, called CVN-76, will be part of the Nimitz class, but its design was changed significantly from its Nimitz-class predecessors.

About two-thirds of the Reagan is different from today's newest Nimitz-class carrier, the USS Harry Truman, said Mike Petters, vice president and general manager of aircraft carriers programs at Newport News Shipbuilding.

The March 4 christening date was selected to coincide with Ronald and Nancy Reagan's 49th wedding anniversary, Petters said in an interview during the Tailhook Association's naval aviation conference in Reno, Nev.

"If you drive by the dry dock today, you start to see the ship raking shape. It's the ninth and final ship of the Nimitz class," he said. Construction is 46 percent complete.

After the ship is christened, however, it will rake at least two years to get it ready for sea trials, before it can be commissioned by the Navy m early to mid 2003. The christening is only a launch day, Petters explained. "We don't hit them with a bottle and they slide down the ramp. Those days are gone."

The Reagan, which will replace the USS Constellation (CV 64), was changed largely to accommodate naval combat requirements that have emerged during the past decade, particularly the "lessons from Desert Storm," Petters said. The Navy, for example, wanted to simplify the process of getting ordnance to the flight deck.

"So we redesigned the island house to include a weapons elevator. We moved the weapons elevator inside the island house to get us more storage area and facilitate ordnance handling," he said. "In today's Nimitz-class ships, you see an island and, behind the island, you see a radar mast. On the Reagan, you will only see the island because we incorporated the radar mast into the island, to make it one structure." The island will be placed on the flight deck next month. "As we went through the changes, it turned out that about two-thirds of the ship drawings are new, compared to the Truman."

One of the more drastic redesigns in the ship is a bulbous bow unit, which will give the carrier a larger under-the-water line, Petters explained. "People who saw the structure thought we were building a submarine. It's that much bigger than the current carriers," he added. A submarine bow is 35 feet in diameter. The Reagan's bow is 30 feet in diameter. "It will change the way the ship handles," said Petters.

The bulbous bow was designed to improve the efficiency of the hull, said Petters, "It helps with the drag and sea keeping." The new bow changes the way the flow of water comes down the side of the ship, thus changing the center of buoyancy. The upshot is that it makes the propulsion system 4 percent more efficient. "Over a 50-year lifetime, that is a tremendous change in the way the ship will be managed," said Petters. "A single point change in the design will change how the propulsion system will act."

The Reagan also has a more powerful air conditioning system, which the Navy said was needed to improve sailors' living conditions when deployed in sweltering areas, such as the Persian Gulf.

Even though carrier designers cannot predict what the world will be like in 2050 or 2060, they must design a ship that can last at least five decades, Petters explained. "You can accommodate that by keeping the design simple and flexible," he said. The key is to make the ship big enough. "We always end up with a large flight deck, a large ship, which gives us the flexibility to accommodate multiple classes of aircraft."

Future carriers must be sturdier than today's ships because the Navy keeps them at sea longer, and expects to continue to do so in the decades ahead, Petters noted. The USS Nimitz, which currently is being refueled at Newport News, will be our of service longer than the expected two-year refueling downtime, because it needs more repairs and overhaul than had been anticipated, he said. "That ship has been ridden hard. ... It's been worked a lot harder than what we thought it would be."

The follow-on carrier to the Reagan, the CVN-77, will nor be part of the Nimitz class, but will serve as a bridge to the next class, said Petters. Even though Congress already has approved funding for CVN-77, the Navy and the shipyard have yet to agree on contract terms for the construction of the ship, which would be delivered in 2008.

One of the most complicated parts of the contract negotiation has to do with the research and development needed for a new warfare system. Newport News awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin Corporation for the integration of the warfare systems. In the past, the combat systems had been provided as government furnished equipment." For the CVN-77, "the Navy decided they would get more value if the sensors, weapons and information systems were integrated by a single contractor," said Petters.

"This is one of the most complicated contracts that you could imagine," he said. For the warfare system, for example, the goal is to have advanced multi-function and search radar systems. But those systems are nor being developed under the CVN-77 program, but under the Navy's new surface combatant program, the DD-21. "We are expecting to benefit from the DD-21 program development," Petters said. "That concept is not finished today so we have to work through how we are going to contract that.
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Title Annotation:USS Ronald Reagan
Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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