On November 8, 2011, Austal held a keel-laying ceremony for its second Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), "Choctaw County" (JHSV 2), one of seven Austal-designed 103-metre US Navy Joint High Speed Vessels under contract with the US Department of Defense.
Captain Henry W. Stevens, III (USN), Strategic and Theater Sealift Program Manager, PMS 385, served as the Authenticator at the ceremony, and was assisted by Brandon Mims. Brandon is an "A" Class welder who has been part of the Austal team since June 2007.
The object of a traditional keel-laying ceremony is to mark the first significant milestone in the construction of the ship. However, due to Austal's modular approach to ship manufacture, the ship is actually over 50 percent complete, with every one of the over 40 modules used to form this 103-metre aluminum catamaran design already being assembled. For Austal, keel-laying marks the beginning of final assembly. Two super modules have been moved from Austal's Module Manufacturing Facility (MMF) and erected in the final assembly bay in their pre-launch position. The rest will follow over the coming months.
"We have worked through our first-in-class issues and are moving into serial production," said Joe Rella, Chief Operating Officer and President of Austal USA. "With the fabrication of "Choctaw County", we are over 30 percent more efficient at this point than we were with "USNS Spearhead"." By building pieces of the ship in a separate facility, fabricators can install and test generators, propulsion equipment, electrical, piping and ventilation systems and other critical components in a controlled, efficient manufacturing environment.
Austal was selected as prime contractor in November 2008 to design and build the first JHSV, with options for nine additional vessels expected to be exercised between FY09 and FY13 as part of a program potentially worth over US$1.6 billion.
The JHSV is a relatively new asset in the American arsenal, capable of transporting medium-sized operational units with their vehicles, allowing warfighters to transit long distances while maintaining unit integrity. Each JHSV also supports helicopter operations and has a slewing vehicle ramp on the starboard quarter which enables use of austere piers and quay walls, common in developing countries. A shallow draft (under 4 meters) will further enhance theater port access.
"USNS Spearhead" (JHSV 1) was christened on September 17 and is preparing for builders' trials in the near future. Congressman Jo Bonner (R-AL) recently joined Austal officials in commemorating the official start of fabrication for JHSV 3 which is scheduled for delivery in 2013. JHSV 3 is the fourth naval vessel to be constructed at Austal using the new procedures and processes developed in conjunction with Austal's Module Manufacturing Facility (MMF). The MMF provides Austal with assembly line efficiency, which has resulted in significant cost savings and reduced lead times for both of our Navy programs.
Austal USA is also currently preparing to launch a second Independence-variant 127-metre Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class vessel for the US Navy, "Coronado" (LCS 4). "USS Independence" (LCS 2) is currently being put through trials by her crew. As prime contractor for the next LCS 10-ship contract, awarded by the US Navy at the end of 2010, Austal has also begun work on the first ship of that contract, "Jackson" (LCS 6), with "Montgomery" (LCS 8) also under contract.