The US Navy has awarded a $152m advance planning contract to Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) for the construction of the third Gerald R Ford-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Enterprise (CVN 80).

Under the contract, HII will be responsible for designing, engineering, and procurement of long-lead-time material.

Newport News CVN 79 and CVN 80 construction vice-president Mike Shawcross said: "Advance planning allows us to begin applying lessons learned from CVN 78 and CVN 79 more effectively, while providing stability to our workforce and the industrial base, in order to deliver the ship at the lowest cost possible."

"Work under the contract will be performed at the company’s Newport News Shipbuilding division."

Work under the contract will be performed at the company’s Newport News Shipbuilding division, and will run through March 2018.

Christened in honour of the US Navy’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CVN 65), the new vessel is set to replace the Nimitz-class carrier, USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN 69).

Construction on the vessel is scheduled to begin in 2018 and delivery is expected to take place in 2027.

The first ship in this series, Gerald R Ford (CVN 78), was scheduled for delivery in March this year, but was delayed due to testing. The second carrier, John F Kennedy (CVN 79), is scheduled to enter service in 2020.

The 1,092ft-long Gerald R Ford aircraft carriers will be equipped with Raytheon-built evolved Sea Sparrow missiles (ESSM).

The warship will operate up to 90 aircraft, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F / A-18E / F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, and MH-60R / S helicopters, among others.

Image: A rendering of the future Enterprise (CVN 80). Photo: courtesy of Huntington Ingalls Industries, Inc.