NEWPORT NEWS — Three
congressmen, Navy officials and
shipyard executives donned ceremonial safety glasses and hardhats Friday, but stood idly by while Wayne Kania, a shipyard machine hand specialist, punched a few orders into his computer.
Kania set in motion a hulking machine that fired a flaming mix of oxygen and propane onto a 2.5-inch slab of American steel, cutting two bevels that will allow the sheet to be welded to another, teaming to form a part of the understructure of a new aircraft carrier.
The event at
's Newport News shipyard marked an important milestone in the life of the yet-unnamed CVN-79 aircraft carrier: The official beginning of construction.
Although the CVN-79, the second aircraft carrier of the
class, isn't due to be completed and handed over to the Navy until 2020, design and fabrication work is well underway.
So far, the yard has received nearly $1 billion for the carrier, but more than $900 million in additional funding is tied up in Congress, which has yet to appropriate money included in the fiscal year 2011 budget.
has been operating under a continuing resolution — a stopgap measure that maintains the previous year's funding levels. President
's defense budget request was $549 billion, $23 billion more than what the Pentagon has available under a full-year continuing resolution.
The measure is up for another vote on March 4.
Failing a compromise, Newport News programs like the CVN-79 could be in peril — at least temporarily, said Matt Mulherin, the shipyard's general manager.
"It could affect us if (Congress doesn't) get it right," Mulherin said. "We're supposed to ramp up pretty substantially this year on (CVN-79), and we're going to have a heck of a time doing that ramp-up."
Rear Adm. Michael McMahon, the Navy's program executive officer for aircraft carriers, said the continuing resolution has created "substantial issues" for construction and maintenance programs.
Funding for the CVN-79 and a planning contract for the mid-life nuclear refueling and overhaul of the
carrier are in flux, he said.
"What happens is, you aren't able to order the material that you wanted to order and you have to take that labor plan and drop it down," McMahon said. "We're trying to figure out how we deal with that most efficiently."
If Congress is unable to reach a compromise on a spending plan soon, "furloughs (are) not out of the question" in Newport News, Mulherin said. "But I think the question better asked to congressional folks is to say: 'What are you going to do to ensure that we're not going to have a government shutdown?'"
Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. — the company the shipyard may become — intends to raise up to $1.78 billion from investors as start-up money.