Meridian Star

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August 11, 2013

Navy switch could hurt Ingalls composite center

Gulfport —  GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — A money-saving move by the U.S. Navy has officials at Huntington Ingalls Industries unsure of the future for the company's Gulfport shipyard, which employs 650 people.

The Composite Center of Excellence held the first two contracts to build deckhouses for Zumwalt-class destroyers, but lost the third to General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works in Maine. The Gulfport plant also builds composite masts for the Navy's San Antonio (LPD 17) class of amphibious ships.

"The company is currently evaluating the future utilization of this facility based upon the U.S. Navy's decision," Ingalls Shipbuilding spokesman Bill Glenn told The Sun Herald ( ).

The deckhouse, hanger and some launching system modules for the first two destroyers were built in Gulfport. But the contract for those parts of the third destroyer went to General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works in Maine.

Ingalls has delivered steel components for the second destroyer, which is being built at Bath Iron Works. Ingalls is building the composite deckhouse and hangar in Gulfport.

The Navy moved from composites to steel to save money on construction, said Chris Johnson, a spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command.

The composite, of carbon fiber materials with balsa wood cores, is as strong as steel but requires little maintenance and is very lightweight, according to Huntington Ingalls. A company news release said it is corrosion resistant, cutting maintenance costs, and its lightness improves hull stability, allows more payload and higher speed.

Johnson said the Navy had been using the composites to meet stability requirements.

"As we've constructed the first ship and we've made some minimal changes in design we've determined that we had enough weight margin that we could go with steel," Johnson said. "It was the cheaper option; that's the way we went."

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