General Dynamics said in a statement Monday that its wholly owned subsidiary NASSCO had put down keel for the USNS Wally Schirra, which will be the eighth in a series of dry cargo-ammunition ships in the Navy's T-AKE program.
The vessel is named after the pioneer astronaut who flew in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and it is due to be completed between October and December 2009.
General Dynamics said that on April 21, NASSCO would also start building the ninth vessel of the Lewis and Clark -- T-AKE -- class and that it would be handed over to the Navy between January and March 2010.
"From keel-laying to delivery, NASSCO is significantly reducing the T-AKE build cycle with each subsequent ship and providing substantial cost savings to the Navy," said Frederick J. Harris, president of General Dynamics NASSCO.
"What took 26 months to complete on T-AKE 1 is now projected to take 16 months for T-AKE 8 and 9. NASSCO recognizes that the timely delivery of these high-quality ships helps the Navy improve its global combat logistics capabilities," Harris said.
General Dynamics said NASSCO had already completed the first four T-AKE vessels and would hand over the fifth one, USNS Robert E. Peary -- T-AKE 5 -- in June. USNS Amelia Earhart -- T-AKE 6 -- went down the slipway on April 6 and USNS Carl Brashear -- T-AKE 7 -- is being built in San Diego, the company said.
T-AKE vessels are equipped with integrated electric-drive propulsion systems to cut operating costs and are designed to carry up to 10,000 tons of food, ammunition, fuel and other goods for Navy warships. The Navy has ordered 11 of them so far from NASSCO and it may exercise options to construct three more.