San Diego-based General Dynamics Nassco and two other U.S. shipbuilders will receive U.S. Navy contracts to do preliminary design work on a new class of fleet replenishment oilers.

Oilers refuel other ships at sea.

As defense contracts go, these are small — not to exceed $1.7 million — but they could lead to the chance to actually build new ships.

The Navy plans to buy 17 oilers, taking delivery of the first one in 2020, according to the contract announcement.

The studies are expected to take six to 10 months. The contracts include options to study topics such as inert gas systems.

The Navy is calling for an affordable ship design.

The two other businesses receiving contracts were Huntington Ingalls Industries and VT Halter Marine, both of Pascagoula, Miss.

The Naval Sea Systems Command, or Navsea, awarded the contracts.

— SDBJ Staff Report