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San Diego’s NASSCO Experiencing A Shipbuilding Boom

Its third mobile landing platform ship for the Navy will be christened Saturday

Video by Nicholas Mcvicker

NASSCO’s third mobile landing platform ship will be christened on Saturday amid a building boom at the company's Barrio Logan shipyard.

General Dynamics NASSCO is getting ready to christen Saturday the USNS Lewis B. Puller, the third mobile landing platform ship the company has built in San Diego since 2011.

And it's not the only work being done at the Barrio Logan shipyard, where business is booming.

Workers in welding masks and hard hats are piecing together a record half-dozen massive multimillion-dollar ships, including three eco-tankers, two LNG fuel container ships and the Puller mobile landing platform.

“We have 10 ships that we’re going to be building between now and about 2017,” said Kevin Graney, NASSCO's general manager. "We will end up delivering six ships in 2016."

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

The USNS Lewis B. Puller, the third Mobile Landing Platform ship build by NASSCO, is in its final construction stage and scheduled to be completed in spring 2015.

Graney said the company's success stems from delivering ships on time and under budget.

"We keep our accuracy within about a millimeter, so it’s a very, very tight tolerance and very accurate pieces that we cut," Graney said. "I think we’re somewhere around several thousand parts a week, just based on the pace of production today.“

The booming ship business is a stark difference from a few years ago during the recession. That's when the company, the largest shipbuilder on the West Coast, struggled to find work and was hit with layoffs. Now, NASSCO is on a hiring binge. The average journeyman makes nearly $80,000 a year in wages and benefits.

"What that means for us in San Diego is we end up with 3,800 good jobs for our folks, and we can sustain that over the next three years," Graney said.

One project Graney is especially proud of is the development of mobile landing platforms. Three of the 800-foot-long Navy vessels have been designed by his team.

"What our engineers came up with was an idea to reuse an existing commercial tanker design where we carved out the cargo tanks that normally would carry oil," Graney said.

The entire middle cargo section was replaced with a long and flexible platform that makes the vessel more versatile.

"Navy and Marine Corps are coming up with pretty inventive ways to take a platform like this and use it in interesting and different ways than originally conceived," Graney said.

The platform vessels will serve as forward-deployed sea bases, allowing troops to respond quickly in transferring equipment from ship to shore during a crisis.

Graney said the design is so adaptive that what started as a $1.3 billion Navy contract to build three ships has turned into a deal to build a fourth, and possibly a fifth.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

An aerial view of the USNS Montford Point, the Navy's new mobile landing platform that will be used in ship-to-shore humanitarian assistance.

The first two mobile landing platform ships, the USNS John Glenn and Montford Point, were built and launched from NASSCO’s docks.

Now work is being completed there on the USNS Lewis B. Puller, an extended version of the mobile landing platform ship. It was named after the most decorated Marine in the history of the corps.

"It’s kind of a hybrid. It’s an auxiliary ship (and) it has the capabilities of an amphib in some cases but also can carry aircraft, so it’s a little bit of a Swiss army knife, if you will," Graney said.

The Puller also features an upper flight deck, mine countermeasure capabilities and accommodations for 250 troops.

"It’s exciting times for San Diego and NASSCO to have these ships being built here, right in our backyard," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Tague with Military Sealift Command Pacific in Point Loma.

Tague, who overseas mobile landing platform operations, said the ships are ushering in a new era of Navy sea capabilities.

"It’s an afloat forward concept, so they will be able to tie in communications, special operations and missions to be more versatile, with a helicopter landing deck and small boat operations,” Tague said.

The Puller also will increase the military’s presence in the Pacific.

"It’s a great showing of joint military forces,” Tague said. “You have the United States Navy, … Marine Corps, and the United States Merchant Marine all working together to meet the needs of the Navy for successful future missions.”

NASSCO wants to be included in future Navy missions. Graney said the defense contractor is competing against Huntington Ingals Industries, America's largest military shipbuilding company, for what would likely be its biggest project ever — a $3.5 billion amphibious warship, the LHA-8.

"We made enough of a credible case to the Navy where we have had a place at the table ever since," Graney said. "We’re figuring probably somewhere between 15 million man-hours to build.. but I believe in our capability."

The Navy has plans to fund 48 ships in the next five years, according to the proposed defense budget released this week.

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