April 1, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Austal Breaks Ground On Mobile Expansion

A sand sculpture depicts the Austal USA-built littoral combat ship and joint high-speed vessel. The sculpture was unveiled at a groundbreaking for three new building's at the company's Mobile River shipyard. (Press-Register/G.M. Andrews)

By Dan Murtaugh, The Press-Register

MOBILE -- Austal USA officials and elected leaders broke ground Thursday on a $116 million project to build three new facilities at the shipbuilder's Mobile River complex. 

The construction should be finished within 15 months, and will enable the Australia-based shipbuilder to hire another 2,000 workers and complete contracts to build both joint high-speed vessels and littoral combat ships for the U.S. military, Austal USA President and Chief Operating Officer Joe Rella said. 

Austal currently employs about 2,000 people, with that number expected to rise to at least 3,800 over the next few years. 

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley keyed in on that employment increase in a speech he gave before the groundbreaking. "Once we get people working again, many problems we face will be solved," Bentley said. 

Bentley and others spoke in front of a massive sand sculpture depicting the new buildings and the two ships that Austal is building. 

The project includes a $17 million office complex that will house about 400 administrative workers. Currently those employees are spread between Austal's administration building, two trailers and two off-site locations. 

The company will also build a $22 million assembly bay, the third one large enough to house the military vessels. 

Austal will also spend $77 million to double the size of its Module Manufacturing Facility. Austal builds sections of its ships assembly line-style at the MMF and then puts the sections together in assembly bays. 

The approach is far different than any other military shipbuilder, and has won the company accolades from several shipbuilding analysts. 

Birmingham-based Gray Construction will be the prime contractor on the MMF and the office complex, while Mobile-based Thompson Engineering will lead the construction of the assembly bay. 

Austal has a $1.6 billion, 10-ship contract for joint high-speed vessels, with five each going to the Army and Navy. The lightly armed ships can transport troops and equipment and will replace smaller, slower transport ships for both branches of the military. 

The Army has plans to build 12 of the ships, and the Navy's long-term shipbuilding plan lists 41 of them. 

In December, Austal added a $3.8 billion, 10-vessel deal to build littoral combat ships for the Navy. 

Littoral combat ships are meant for minesweeping, submarine-hunting, anti-piracy efforts and special forces operations. The small, speedy ships also are meant to be cheap -- at least in relative terms -- allowing the Navy to get from its current 287 ships to a goal of 313. 

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