November 9, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Austal Starts Assembly Of Second JHSV

Capt. Henry W. Stevens, III of the U.S. Navy, places his initials onto the keel plate, officially authenticating the keel with help from Brandon Mims, A-Class structural welder. Austal celebrates the laying of the keel for Choctaw County (JHSV 2) in the final asembly bay Tuesday Nov. 8, 2011.

MOBILE, Alabama -- Officials with Austal USA and the U.S. Navy marked the start of assembly of the second joint high-speed vessel Tuesday.

Capt. Henry Stevens, director of the Navy program commonly called JHSV, welded his initials onto an aluminum plate destined for the ship's frame.

Stevens' torch was guided by Brandon Mims, an Austal welder from Uriah, Ala., a town of about 300 people and "one blinking red light," Stevens said.

Mims was the perfect choice to help mark the beginning of assembly, Stevens said, because the ship will eventually be named the USNS Choctaw County, to represent rural America.

Tuesday's ceremony is Austal's version of the traditional laying of the keel. The keel is the central beam, or spine, of a ship, and shipbuilders have long celebrated its laying as the start of ship construction.

Austal, however, is not a traditional shipbuilding company. Instead of constructing vessels from the hull up, Austal workers build dozens of modules, or small sections, of the ship, and then weld them together like a giant, aluminum Lego toy.

While Tuesday marked the start of assembly, construction of the ship is already 50 percent complete, Austal USA President Joe Rella said.

The company is almost finished with the first JHSV, Spearhead, which was christened last month and will be delivered to the Navy early next year. Lessons learned from Spearhead have reduced construction time on Choctaw County by 31 percent, Rella said.

Austal is Mobile's largest industrial employer and expects to grow its workforce from its current level of 2,400 workers to 4,000 in the next two years. It's also building several new facilities on its campus on the east bank of Mobile River.

"We're very pleased with the performance of Austal for the JHSV program," Stevens said after the ceremony. "The investments made by the company really speak volumes about the commitment they have to delivering high-quality ships for the Navy."

Austal has a Navy contract that, if fully executed, will pay it $1.6 billion to construct 10 JHSVs. The company plans to deliver a new JHSV basically every six months through 2016.

JHSVs are 338 feet long, weigh 727 tons, can carry up to 600 tons of cargo and can travel at an average speed of about 35 knots, or 40 mph. The ships will be used to move troops, weapons and cargo.

Last month, a Congressional Research Service report said Navy officials began briefing Congressional staffers in September on an updated shipbuilding plan that would reduce the number of joint high-speed vessels the Navy procures from 21 to 10.

Any JHSVs beyond the first 10 would have to be bid out, but Austal would likely be in the catbird seat if it proves it can build them quickly and efficiently.

On Tuesday, Stevens said he read the report but couldn't discuss the Navy's plans.

In addition to the JHSVs, Austal has a contract that, if fully executed, will pay it $3.6 billion to construct 10 Navy littoral combat ships. The CRS report has the total number of LCS in the Navy shipbuilding plan standing pat at 55.

  • For more information, visit
  • For more state-wide press releases, click here