UPDATED with Rep. Wittman comment WASHINGTON: The long-delayed super-carrier USS Ford is “99 percent” complete and will be delivered to the Navy in April, the Navy announced late Wednesday. A date for commissioning the $13 billion ship into service has still not been yet.
The Ford is the first all-new carrier design in 40 years — since the USS Nimitz was commissioned in 1975 — and many of its new technologies turned out to be not quite ready for action, leading to schedule slips and cost overruns. But alongside the electromagnetic launch catapults and high-tech arrestor gear, the ship also suffered problems with its relatively mundane turbine generators. Now, however, the Navy says testing is 93 percent complete, work on the ship overall is 99 percent done, and the service has enough confidence to set a schedule again: shipbuilders’ trials in March, then Navy acceptance trials in April with delivery later that month — assuming the trials go okay.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus effectively admitted the Ford was the Navy’s most troubled program, edging out the controversial Littoral Combat Ship. Congressional critics have excoriated the program, most of all Senate Armed Services chairman John McCain, who as a former Navy fighter pilot knows carriers first-hand. Interestingly, President-Elect Donald Trump has refrained from criticizing the Ford even as he publicly blasts the F-35 fighter that will fly from it.
It’ll be interesting to see if today’s announcement calms the troubled waters for the Ford or simply brings it back to critics’ attention for another round of sniping. We’ll update this story as comment rolls in.
[Update] The brand-new chairman of the House seapower subcommittee, Rep. Rob Wittman, was quick to praise the carrier — which is built at Newport News in his home state of Virginia, albeit not in his district: “USS FORD (CVN 78) is a first-in-class aircraft carrier with capabilities never before seen in the United States Navy and will serve as a vital component of our force projection for decades to come. Like most first-in-class ships, USS FORD experienced some unexpected delays, but I am encouraged that she plans to join the fleet in April 2017 following sea trials.”
A former Pentagon analyst had a less rosy but ultimately positive assessment: “Taking delivery of the Ford at long last is a positive step towards getting the fleet back into fighting form. The recent gap over the holidays when no supercarriers were at sea, largely due to delays in the Ford‘s delivery schedule, was disturbing in its implications for our national interests abroad. I hope that the Navy and the manufacturer will quickly bring all of the systems to their full capabilities, especially the electrical systems that include the ship’s catapults and arresting gear. Ultimately, as we move beyond this first-in-class ship, I hope to see production intervals and associated costs come down.”
Here’s the full statement from long-suffering Navy spokesperson Capt. Thurraya Kent, which we received at 5:20 pm Wednesday:
“GERALD R. FORD (CVN 78) is 99 percent overall complete with 93 percent of the test program complete (93 percent Hull, Mechanical & Electrical, 92 percent propulsion testing, and 93 percent electronics testing). Over the past few months, we have made significant progress resolving first-of-class issues associated with these critical systems and have resumed critical path testing in support of Builder’s Sea Trials. This progress enables us to forecast our sea trials and delivery schedule. Specifically, we have updated the ship’s schedule to reflect Builder’s Sea Trials in March 2017, Acceptance Trials in April 2017, and Delivery in April 2017, pending the results of sea trials.”