With eyes on more Navy maintenance work, Austal opens California shipyard

Austal has invested $100 million in buying the land, revitalizing its facilities and building a floating dry dock to be used nearby.

Austal USA has officially opened a new California shipyard located just south of the US Navy’s San Diego base with the Littoral Combat Ship Canberra (LCS-30) waiting nearby, the first vessel scheduled to be serviced at the new repair facility.

The company, best known for its primary location in Mobile, Ala., closed on the new West Coast facilities back in December 2021. Since then the company has been preparing the yard, which was originally a boat repair and storage facility, into a space ready to service Navy warships, Larry Ryder, Austal USA’s vice president of business development, told Breaking Defense ahead of the Monday ceremony.

Ryder said to date Austal has invested $100 million into buying and revitalizing the 15-acre facility, which has 678 feet of shoreline. That investment also includes building a 9,000-ton floating dry dock which is scheduled to arrive this summer.

Dry docks, or graving docks, as the name implies, are contained spaces in shipyards with the necessary infrastructure to drain the water out from underneath a ship so that shipyard personnel can more easily access areas of the vessel that would otherwise be under water. Once maintenance is complete, the shipyard floods the space with water to allow the ship to sail away.

The difference with a floating dry dock is that the space itself is movable and can be located nearby the port, but not monopolize valuable land.

“The advantage of a floating dry dock is it’s cheaper than building and maintaining a graving dock,” Ryder said. “It also provides mobility if you… decide you need to keep it at a different location.”

Austal’s new shipyard, Ryder said, will be primarily used for maintenance work, as opposed to building new ships, which lines up with the company’s ambitions to grow its maintenance revenue to as high as 50 percent of its revenue.

Rusty Murdaugh, Austal USA’s president, told Breaking Defense shortly after he took over as the company’s chief executive that building a stronger portfolio of ship maintenance work was one of his strategic goals as the Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship production line comes to an end.

The other half of Murdaugh’s strategic transition involves the company’s relatively new steel construction line, which has won Austal USA a number of contract awards since its inception as well as made it a contender if the US Navy moves forward with a second shipyard for the Constellation-class frigate.


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