USS Monitor of Civil War fame was ordered on Oct. 4, 1861, and commissioned Feb. 25, 1862. The iron-hulled, steam-powered, ironclad warship built for the Union Navy cost $275,000.

The price tag to build a United States Naval Ship expeditionary fast transport ship such as the one named after the city of Cody costs roughly $200 million and takes about a year and a half to build. 

According to Austal, the Mobile, Ala., company contracted to build the future USNS Cody EPF, construction will start the summer of 2020. About 18 months will pass before the ship is delivered to the Navy.  

“We are excited to be building a ship named for Cody,” Michelle Bowden, company media and marketing manager, said by email. 

The EPF, designed to transport military cargo, has a crew of 26 civilian mariners. 

Last August when then Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer announced his name choice for the Navy’s newest EPF ship, that formal act of naming a ship was the first of a seven-milestone process to build the USNS Cody before she is an active unit with the Navy, according to a shipbuilding timeline provided by Austal. 

Keel laying – the formal recognition of the start of a ship’s construction when the first aluminum has been cut for the ship – is the second step.

In earlier times, construction began with the “laying down” of the central or main timber making up the backbone of a vessel. Today, fabrication of the ship may begin months before and some of the ship’s bottom keel may actually be joined. At Austal, keel laying symbolically recognizes the joining of modular components and the ceremonial beginning of a ship.

Next is launching, which is when the ship is moved from the assembly bay and lowered onto the water for the first time.

Then the official launching ceremony recognizes the “floating” of a ship by name. This christening is marked when a bottle of champagne is broken across the bow. The ship’s sponsor, most often a woman, breaks the champagne bottle and ceremonially gives the ship its name. Once the Cody has been christened, it becomes a United States Naval Ship.

Ship naming and launching endow a ship hull with her identity. But more milestones remain before it is completed and considered ready to be designated a commissioned ship.

Next comes acceptance or sea trials. Sea trials are an intense series of tests that demonstrate all installed shipboard equipment operates satisfactorily. 

After tests show the ship performs according to its plans and specifications next comes delivery. This is when the ship is officially turned over to the U.S. Navy. In a private ceremony, the contractor (Austal) and the customer (Navy) representatives officially sign documents. This event normally coincides with “move aboard” when the precommissioning crew moves aboard and starts living, eating, standing watch, training and working aboard the ship while final work continues in the shipyard.

Newly built ships undergo a series of trials. A builder’s trials and acceptance trials occur before the ship’s delivery, and final contract trials are conducted several months after delivery and “sail away.”

The ship’s final departure from the shipyard to its homeport site signifies the end of the new construction period and the beginning of its life preparing to perform the mission it was designed to undertake. 

At Austal, the EPF normally sails away 90 days post-delivery, according to the company timeline. The final step toward becoming an active Navy unit is to officially load or accept any remaining equipment such as munitions at its home port.

For combat ships, a commissioning ceremony marks a ship’s entry into active Navy service. But Bowden said the act of placing a ship in commission does not apply to the EPF ship. 

“Since the EPF vessels are manned by civilian merchant mariners, the ship does not get commissioned,” she said. “Once it is delivered, it officially becomes a United States Naval Ship and it does not go through the additional step of commissioning that combat vessels do.”

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