US Navy’s new aircraft carrier first to be designed, built digitally

Aircraft carriers represent the pinnacle of a nation’s naval power. For the last century, naval dominance was defined by the strength of carrier fleets. Now, it’s time for carrier design and construction to sail into the 21st century.

HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding Division is a storied shipyard. Every nuclear-powered carrier sailing in the U.S. Navy was built there. USS Enterprise (CVN-80), the Ford-class carrier currently being built at Newport News, is the first carrier to be completely designed and built digitally.

Instead of complicated, two-dimensional designs printed out on giant reams of paper, shipbuilders are given tablets. Brian Fields, the vice president of Aircraft Carrier Construction at Newport News said the digital renderings are now more akin to a YouTube video.

“Or a 3D gaming environment. You can zoom, rotate, and all the information is at your fingertips,” Fields said. “With all the new people we have coming into the shipyard, no matter what their backgrounds’, they can take that information and go to work.”

Fields gave a demonstration of the technology at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space 2023 Exhibition in National Harbor, Maryland. Fields said at the time digitizing the shipbuilding process is a huge money and time saver.

“We’re seeing shipbuilders come into the yard right out of high school, and in a year, they’re off working on their own without the mentor and oversight that traditionally would have taken years to do,” Fields said.

Going from playing video games to building aircraft carriers might not seem like an obvious career path, but Fields said it’s proving successful nonetheless. Fields said younger shipbuilders are digital natives, and naturally understand the visualizations utilized in HII’s digital shipbuilding.

“And the really cool thing,” Fields said, “is the old, crusty shipbuilders are coming to the younger generation and saying, ‘Hey, how do I use that that laptop? How do I use that information? Show me how to do this, and I’ll share with you my craft.’ So that reverse mentoring, that’s been exciting for our younger workforce and they’re immediately providing value.”

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