USS America: Building the U.S. Naval Forces Platform of the Future … Today

Categories: Architecture Engineering Construction

During this year’s Fleet Week in San Francisco, the US Navy will commission its latest warship, the USS America (LHA 6). Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) used various Autodesk software products along with a tightly integrated shipbuilding application from SSI called ShipConstructor to ensure more efficient and effective construction.

The USS America is the lead ship in the U.S. Navy’s new America-class of amphibious assault ships. The America is nearly three football fields in length and is 20 stories high from its keel to the top of its foremast.  Its flight deck spans 2 acres, which is almost half the size of the Navy’s large deck aircraft carriers, and is slightly larger than the USS Essex class of carriers of World War II which in their day were the big-deck carriers.  The America class has a crew of 1,200 and can embark more than 1,800 Marine air squadron and ground combat and support personnel to conduct operations that span the gamut from combat to humanitarian relief.

According to Mr. Dave Papak, BGen., USMC (Ret), Director Autodesk Federal, “ShipConstructor and Autodesk software were used to envision, design and manufacture the USS America using the most advanced 3D technologies. Beyond the benefits during ship construction, the long term costs for the maintenance and sustainment of the USS America should be dramatically reduced over the life cycle of the ship while improving fleet readiness.”


From an operational aspect, commenting on the unique aspects of the USS America, Rear Admiral Frank Ponds, Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group Three stated “It’s a tremendous asset that gives a commander utility to do things that could have never been done before. This is a platform of the future — it was built with the future in mind. You get tremendous capability and flexibility.”


The AutoCAD based ShipConstructor application enabled HII to create a ship-specific 3D model allowing the power of digital prototyping to be employed in the shipbuilding context. More specifically, ShipConstructor captured all information relevant to the 3D design, manufacturing, maintenance, repair and refit of the ship. This concept compares to the highly used and respected Building Information Model (BIM); or in America’s case, 3D Marine Information Model (MIM). This MIM in essence captures all the above and below deck physical structures and engineering components, C4I, electrical, propulsion and miscellaneous systems that make up the USS America. With this 3D view of USS America, the sustainers and maintainers that will husband America through her life cycle will be able to effectively plan the work and execute the work plan.  This will result in improved quality, efficiency and productivity that will significantly reduce cost and time compared to historic profiles. The end result is a direct and lasting impact on reliability, availability and fleet readiness.    


Shipbuilding is one of the most complex and demanding manufacturing disciplines. The sheer number of parts that goes into the construction and maintenance/ sustainment of a ship is astronomical when compared to other  industries. For instance; the average car consists of about 3,000 parts, while a Boeing 777 aircraft has 103,000 parts. These numbers are dwarfed when compared to large naval ships like the USS America that can easily have over 1,000,000 different parts. With the development and effective employment of 3D software products and workflow processes hallmarked by Autodesk and SII, a new era in shipbuilding and ship maintenance and sustainment is here today.

Many will get their first opportunity to witness this platform of the future and new era of ship construction this week as the formal commissioning ceremony for the USS America is set for Oct. 11 in San Francisco. U.S. Naval Base San Diego will be her home port.