The Electrical Worker online
August 2012

Miss. Shipyard Gets Billions in New Ships
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A May announcement of a $2 billion U.S. Department of Defense contract for an amphibious assault ship, the USS Tripoli, has bolstered the hopes and job security of thousands of IBEW shipyard workers in Mississippi.

Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls Industries, which employs more than 1,400 members of Pascagoula, Miss., Local 733, will be responsible for the detail design and construction of the future USS Tripoli (LHA 7), the Navy's next large-deck amphibious assault ship. The company formed as a spinoff from Northrop Grumman in 2011.

Construction will begin in 2014. Delivery of the ship, which will travel at a maximum speed of 22 knots (25 miles per hour) is expected in 2018.

The Tripoli will have the potential to operate for sustained periods, traveling to war zones to insert or extract marine air and ground forces supported by helicopters and fighter aircraft.

Local 733 Business Manager Jim Couch says, "We are elated. Huntington Ingalls was only able to secure this contract based upon their growing confidence in the work of our members."

Layoffs at the yard would have been inevitable, says Couch, as existing ships are completed. Now, the local will have the opportunity to move workers who would have been idled to the new project, while adding apprentice classes to replace workers who are retiring in large numbers.

"By starting a new apprentice class now," says Couch, "we will ensure that by the time the Tripoli starts being built, we will have electricians who are completing the last year of their four-year apprenticeship and are equipped to do just about any of the work needed."

The LHA 7 — more than two football fields in length and 106 feet high — will improve upon previous amphibious ships by including a larger hangar deck for more aviation capacity and more space for military personnel, parts and support equipment for landings.

The assault ship will replace the steam boilers on the previous class of amphibious assault vessels with a gas turbine propulsion plant for greater fuel efficiency. The project's electrical potential will be greatly enhanced.

IBEW Government Employees Department Director Chico McGill, a former business manager of Local 733, worked in the analog-controlled engine room of the prior Tarawa-class amphibious ship when he started in the shipbuilding industry in the 1970s. He says, "The gas turbines are a lot more efficient and safe than steam-driven power. I remember back when we would hold up a board to a suspected steam leak and see if the pressure would cut the board."

Today's technologies, says McGill, require marine electricians to be better trained in electronics to work with modern digital controls and diagnostic devices.

McGill says the new vessel will be well-suited to serve humanitarian missions with enough deck space to establish a floating hospital.

Secretary of the U.S. Navy Ray Mabus, a former governor of Mississippi, says, "I'm very proud of our Navy-industry shipbuilding team and the tremendous effort that has culminated in the award of this critical shipbuilding program. The ship will ensure that the amphibious fleet remains capable of expeditionary warfare well into the 21st century."


The Navy's next large-deck amphibious assault ship, the future USS Tripoli, will be built by Pascagoula, Miss., Local 733 members.