Gulf Coast Shipbuilding is rolling at Ingalls and Austal

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The major shipyards building ships for the US Navy are booming these days. New ships are coming together in New England, Virginia, California and Wisconsin. But no place is busier than along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. At Pascagoula, Mississippi, the sprawling Ingalls shipyard of Huntington Ingalls Industries builds more different kinds of ships at once than any other yard, and they’re at work on new assault ships, amphibious transport docks, destroyers and Coast Guard cutters. In nearby Mobile, Alabama, Austal USA is full up, pumping out littoral combat ships and joint high speed vessels. Several smaller yards in the region are also working on government contracts.

We had a chance to visit the yards at Ingalls and Austal USA in mid-December 2013. Here’s a look at how the Navy’s shipbuilders are keeping alive the pride of ships made In America.

All photos by Christopher P. Cavas.

The biggest Navy ship being built along the Gulf is the new assault ship AMERICA (LHA 6). First of a two-ship class that is optimized for Marine Corps aviation, the ship ran builder's sea trials in November. She's expected to be delivered to the fleet and commissioned this year, homeported in San Diego.

The biggest Navy ship being built along the Gulf is the new assault ship AMERICA (LHA 6). First of a two-ship class that is optimized for Marine Corps aviation, the ship ran builder’s sea trials in November. She’s expected to be delivered to the fleet and commissioned this year, homeported in San Diego.

The forward island structure of the AMERICA.

The forward island structure of the AMERICA.

Looking at the aft end of the island.

Looking at the aft end of the island.

For the first time in an amphibious assault ship, no well deck is fitted, and the ship's stern is sealed up. One more ship of this design, the TRIPOLI (LHA 7), already is under construction at Ingalls. Later assault ships will again be designed with a well deck.

For the first time in an amphibious assault ship, no well deck is fitted, and the ship’s stern is sealed up. One more ship of this design, the TRIPOLI (LHA 7), already is under construction at Ingalls. Later assault ships will again be designed with a well deck.

The JOHN P. MURTHA (LPD 26) is the tenth ship of the LPD 17 San Antonio -class of amphibious transport docks. Construction of these ships was performed at Ingalls and at the Avondale shipyard in New Orleans. With delivery of the SOMERSET (LPD 25), shipbuilding at Avondale is coming to an end.

The JOHN P. MURTHA (LPD 26) is the tenth ship of the LPD 17 San Antonio -class of amphibious transport docks. Construction of these ships was performed at Ingalls and at the Avondale shipyard in New Orleans. With delivery of the SOMERSET (LPD 25), shipbuilding at Avondale is coming to an end.

The MURTHA looms high above the building plat. The ship won't be launched until late in 2014.

The MURTHA looms high above the building plat. The ship won’t be launched until late in 2014.

The MURTHA's topsides are cluttered with work. Ships are constructed in building blocks which are then lifted into place. The major blocks of the MURTHA were only recently put in place.

The MURTHA’s topsides are cluttered with work. Ships are constructed in building blocks which are then lifted into place. The major blocks of the MURTHA were only recently assembled.

It's a long way down.

It’s a long way down.

Looking aft along the MURTHA's topsides. Behind the LPD, the Coast Guard's National Security Cutter JAMES (WMSL 754) is taking shape.

Looking aft along the MURTHA’s topsides. Behind the LPD, the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter JAMES (WMSL 754) is taking shape.

The LPDs feature a well deck running about half the ship's length. The deck can be flooded down to float on or off landing craft and amphibious vehicles.

The LPDs feature a well deck running about half the ship’s length. The deck can be flooded down to float on or off landing craft and amphibious vehicles.

Displacing more than 25,000 tons, 684 feet long with a beam of 105 feet, the LPDs are huge ships.

Displacing more than 25,000 tons, 684 feet long with a beam of 105 feet, the LPDs are huge ships.

The lowest portions of the  PORTLAND (LPD 27), the next ship in the class, are being assembled next to the MURTHA. More subsections are visible in the background.

The lowest portions of the PORTLAND (LPD 27), the next ship in the class, are being assembled next to the MURTHA. More subsections are visible in the background.

Hull sections of the PORTLAND under fabrication in the yard.

Hull sections of the PORTLAND under fabrication in the yard.

HAMILTON (WMSL 753), the fourth National Security Cutter for the US Coast Guard, fitting out at Ingalls. The ship was launched on Aug. 10, 2013 and christened on Oct. 26 by Linda Papp, wife of Coast Guard commandant Adm. Robert Papp.

HAMILTON (WMSL 753), the fourth National Security Cutter for the US Coast Guard, fitting out at Ingalls. The ship was launched on Aug. 10, 2013 and christened on Oct. 26 by Linda Papp, wife of Coast Guard commandant Adm. Robert Papp.

Foredeck of the HAMILTON. Although radars are in place, the ship's 57 mm gun mount has yet to be fitted. At right is the JAMES.

Foredeck of the HAMILTON. Although radars are in place, the ship’s 57 mm gun mount has yet to be fitted. At right is the JAMES.

Yard workers install components on the HAMILTON's bridge. The windows, at right, are covered over during this phase of construction.

Yard workers install components on the HAMILTON’s bridge. The windows, at right, are covered over during this phase of construction.

The HAMILTON' s flight deck and twin hangars. The ship is scheduled to be delivered later this year. She'll be the first NSC to be based on the east coast, at Charleston, South Carolina.

The HAMILTON’ s flight deck and twin hangars. The ship is scheduled to be delivered later this year. She’ll be the first NSC to be based on the east coast, at Charleston, South Carolina.

JAMES (WMSL 754), the fifth NSC. The ship will be moved sideways on transporters. When she's ready for launch, a floating drydock will be placed alongside and the ship rolled into it. The dock is then taken to a deeper spot, flooded, and the ship floats off -- a far more dependable method than traditional sliding launches.

JAMES (WMSL 754), the fifth NSC. The ship will be moved sideways on transporters, which travel along the rails in the foreground. When she’s ready for launch, a floating drydock will be placed alongside and the ship rolled into it. The dock is then taken to a deeper spot, flooded, and the ship floats off — a far more dependable method than traditional sliding launches.

Another view of the JAMES. The National Security Cutters are the most capable ships ever built for the Coast Guard.

Another view of the JAMES. The National Security Cutters are the most capable ships ever built for the Coast Guard.

It may not look like much, but these components are part of the destroyer JOHN FINN (DDG 113).  Construction of DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers had been planned to end, and Ingalls delivered its last destroyer in February 2011. But the program has been re-started, and this is the first of the new units under construction. The ship is programmed to be delivered in 2016.

It may not look like much, but these components are part of the destroyer JOHN FINN (DDG 113). Construction of DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers had been planned to end, and Ingalls delivered its last destroyer in February 2011. But the program has been re-started, and this is the first of the new units under construction. The ship is programmed to be delivered in 2016.

View of the Ingalls shipyard from the flight deck of the AMERICA. The floating drydock is at left. One side of its walls are removed to load a new ship. All ships at Ingalls are now launched using this method.

View of the Ingalls shipyard from the flight deck of the AMERICA. The floating drydock is at left. One side of its walls are removed to load a new ship. All ships at Ingalls are now launched using this method.

Austal USA's shipyard on the Mobile River has undergone a major expansion in recent years in anticipation of building littoral combat ships (LCSs) and joint high speed vessels (JHSVs). Here, for the first time, two new LCSs sit together at a shipyard. The CORONADO (LCS 4), at left, was delivered to the Navy on Sept. 27, and is in the final stages of outfitting before leaving for her homeport of San Diego. The JACKSON (LCS 6), right, was launched on Dec. 14, two days before these photos were taken.

Austal USA’s shipyard on the Mobile River has undergone a major expansion in recent years in anticipation of building littoral combat ships (LCSs) and joint high speed vessels (JHSVs). Here, for the first time, two new LCSs sit together at a shipyard. The CORONADO (LCS 4), at left, was delivered to the Navy on Sept. 27, and is in the final stages of outfitting before leaving for her homeport of San Diego. The JACKSON (LCS 6), right, was launched on Dec. 14, two days before these photos were taken.

The CORONADO is the second ship in the LCS 2 Independence class.

The CORONADO is the second ship in the LCS 2 Independence class.

The JACKSON has yet to be fitted with its mast. The ships are assembled in the building sheds behind them, which are too low for the mast.

The JACKSON has yet to be fitted with its mast. The ships are assembled in the building sheds behind them, which are too low for the mast.

The JACKSON at Austal's shipyard on Dec. 16.

The JACKSON at Austal’s shipyard on Dec. 16.

Austal produces the LCSs and JHSVs along side-by-side production lines. This is the very beginning of the assembly line, from where flat pieces of aluminum are fashioned into the swirls and shapes that form a ship.

Austal produces the LCSs and JHSVs along side-by-side production lines. This is the very beginning of the assembly line, from where flat pieces of aluminum are fashioned into the swirls and shapes that form a ship.

At the end of the line major components are recognizable. At left is the bridge structure for the GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (LCS 10); a JHSV section is at right. The facility is remarkably tidy and clean.

At the end of the line major components are recognizable. At left is the bridge structure for the GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (LCS 10); a JHSV section is at right. The facility is remarkably tidy and clean.

Another view of the bridge structure of the GABRIELLE GIFFORDS. The structures are rolled on transporters to the assembly buildings where the ships are erected.

Another view of the bridge structure of the GABRIELLE GIFFORDS. The structures are rolled on transporters to the assembly buildings where the ships are erected.

The MILLINOCKET (JHSV 3) is the third of ten high speed vessels being built for the US Navy. Adapted from an Austal commercial design, the ships are expected to give a new dimension to Military Sealift Command capabilities.

The MILLINOCKET (JHSV 3) is the third of ten high speed vessels being built for the US Navy. Adapted from an Austal commercial design, the ships are expected to give a new dimension to Military Sealift Command capabilities.

A bow-on view of the MILLINOCKET at Austal USA's fitting out pier. The ships are capable of maintaining speeds of 35 knots.

A bow-on view of the MILLINOCKET at Austal USA’s fitting out pier. The ships are capable of maintaining speeds of 35 knots.

The design of the all-aluminum JHSV is striking from any angle.

The design of the all-aluminum JHSV is striking from any angle.

The JHSVs feature a large slewing vehicle ramp.

The JHSVs feature a large slewing vehicle ramp.

The JHSVs are designed to carry combat-loaded M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks. The MILLINOCKET will enter service with the Military Sealift Command in 2014.

The JHSVs are designed to carry combat-loaded M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks. The MILLINOCKET will enter service with the Military Sealift Command in 2014.

A view from underneath the FALL RIVER (JHSV 4). This ship was christened on Jan. 11, 2014. Austal expects to deliver a new JHSV about every six to seven months until the 10-ship buy is completed.

A view from underneath the FALL RIVER (JHSV 4). This ship was christened on Jan. 11, 2014. Austal expects to deliver a new JHSV about every six to seven months until the 10-ship buy is completed.

A number of smaller shipyards dot the Gulf coast. Here, the survey ship MAURY (AGS 66) is fitting out at VT Halter Marine in Moss Point, Mississippi. At right is the HOS CLAYMORE, a new oilfield support ship. Many shipyards support the needs of the oil industry. Launched March 27, 2013, the MAURY is to be delivered in 2014.

A number of smaller shipyards dot the Gulf coast. Here, the survey ship MAURY (AGS 66) is fitting out at VT Halter Marine in Moss Point, Mississippi. At right is the HOS CLAYMORE, a new oilfield support ship. Many shipyards support the needs of the oil industry. Launched March 27, 2013, the MAURY is to be delivered in 2014.

Christopher P. Cavas
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Christopher P. Cavas

If it's on, over, under or around the water, I write about it. Ships and aircraft, units, tactics, leadership, strategies, acquisition, politics, industry. In the USA and around the world.
Christopher P. Cavas
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