US awards $15bn aircraft carrier contract

In February, the US Navy awarded Huntington Ingalls Industries’ (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding division a $15.2bn contract to build a further two nuclear-powered Gerald R Ford-class aircraft carriers. The multi-ship contract is expected to save the US Navy around $4bn covers the construction of aircraft carriers Enterprise (CVN 80) and the as-yet-unnamed CVN 81. First in class USS Gerald R. Ford was commissioned in 2017.

Leidos nets $962m cyber mission engineering contract

In March, Leidos secured a $962m multiple-award contract from the US Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Centre (SPAWARSYSCEN) Atlantic to provide engineering and information warfare services for cyber missions.

The contract work includes support for command, control, communications, computers, combat systems, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (C5ISR) systems, identity operations, enterprise information services and space programmes.

More forces sent to the Middle East

In May, the US Government approved the deployment of the USS Arlington along with a Patriot missile battery to the Middle East in an effort to address rising tension with Iran in the Strait of Hormuz and the wider region.

The US Government has since approved the deployment of further naval equipment to the Middle East, including the USS Arlington (LPD-24) warship and an additional MIM-104 Patriot missile defence battery, following a request from US Central Command (CENTCOM).

At the time the US Department of Defence (DoD) said: “These assets will join the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a US Air Force (USAF) bomber task force in the Middle East region in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against US forces and our interests.

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“The DoD continues to closely monitor the activities of the Iranian regime, their military and proxies. Due to operational security, we will not discuss timelines or location of forces.”

Tensions in the region rose this year as the US continued to pile pressure on the Iranian regime and withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal framework.

USS Arlington was deployed in the face of growing tensions with Iran. Credits: US DoD.

NATO flexes muscles in the Baltic Sea

In June, NATO allies commenced exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2019 in the Baltic Sea involving forces from 18 countries.

NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu told Naval Technology: “The Baltic Sea is of vital strategic importance for the alliance and is bordered by six NATO countries. BALTOPS is now in its 47th year and is not directed against anyone but clearly, the security environment in the region has deteriorated after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. BALTOPS tests how well our forces work together and shows that NATO can defend itself against any adversary.”

Training exercises included clearing sea mines, landing personnel on shore and air defence operations.

NATO ships participate in BALTOPS 19. Credits: US DoD. 

Unmanned naval vessels get bigger

In July, the US Navy issued a request for proposals (RFP) to companies for the development of a medium unmanned surface vessel (MUSV). The MUSV would able to conduct autonomous navigation and mission execution. In a release, the service stated that the development RFP also includes options for additional unmanned surface vessels.

In a statement, the US Navy said: “Accelerating unmanned surface vehicle (USV) and payload development and warfighting integration will provide an inflection point in delivering a more distributed force in support of the National Defense Strategy.”

US goes back to the future

In August, the US Navy announced that it was going back to basics and would replace touchscreen controls on destroyers with physical systems in 2020 after a report into the fatal 2017 USS John S McCain collision branded the controls ‘unnecessarily complex’.

The accident, which caused the deaths of 10 sailors, prompted an investigation that found that the complexity of the control system and a lack of training led to the collision. The navy, as a result, is retrofitting mechanical controls onto all Arleigh Burke-Class destroyers that currently use the Northrop Grumman Integrated Bridge and Navigation System (IBNS).

At the time Northrop Grumman told Naval Technology: “We continue to work closely with the navy on its navigation modernisation program by providing advanced capabilities to support the fleet.”

Royal Navy backs Babcock

In September, the UK Royal Navy selected Babcock as its preferred bidder to build the UK’s new fleet of five Type 31 frigates, with the contract to build the ships being finalised last this year.

The decision saw the programme for five new frigates handed to a Babcock- led team with support from Thales. The ships will be smaller than the Type 26 fleet currently under construction and are due to replace the Type 23, with the first Type 31 set to launch as early as 2023. Each vessel is set to cost around $250m with the ship’s design based on the existing Danish Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate.

British jets on a British Carrier

In October, British F-35 Lightning II fighter jets landed on the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier for the first time during operational trials. The ship travelled to the US for the Westlant 19 exercise, which saw a mix of US and British jets taking off and landing on the carrier, and offered the first glimpse at a future UK Carrier Strike Group with a frigate, destroyer, and replenishment ship from the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary also taking part.

At the time UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “This is another step towards the UK’s carrier strike capability becoming fully operational. The bringing together of the UK Lightnings on the first in class HMS Queen Elizabeth paves the way for the world’s most up to date, fully integrated carrier force.”

British F-35Bs on the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Credits: MOD Crown Copyright.

USS John F Kennedy christened

In December, the US Navy christened its newest Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier the Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) John F. Kennedy. The ceremony, attended by 20,000 people, marks another step towards the delivery of the aircraft carrier, expected to happen in 2022.

Construction of the vessel has so far involved over 5,000 shipbuilders and suppliers from 46 states across the US. The ship is set to be launched into the James River and moved to a pier in the coming weeks.