This article has been updated to include a March 22 statement from Newport News Shipbuilding.
WASHINGTON — A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier going through its mid-life refueling is now delayed by more than a year, due to new work that emerged during the repair and pandemic-related labor challenges.
Nimitz-class carrier George Washington began its refueling and complex overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding in August 2017. These RCOHs, conducted halfway through a carrier’s 50-year service life to refuel the nuclear power reactor and conduct significant repairs and upgrades, typically last four years.
Under a four-year schedule, George Washington would have been complete by August 2021. The ship reached a 50% milestone right on time, in August 2019, and several subsequent news releases noted a 2021 completion date.
By September 2020, though, a company news release noted a 2022 date. The Navy now tells Defense News the carrier is on track to complete the RCOH in December 2022.
“The RCOH is currently 92.5% complete, with some propulsion plant work, catapult work, and combat systems testing remaining,” Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Alan Baribeau wrote in a March 17 email.
He said the two main causes of the delay were unplanned growth work, though he did not specify in what areas, as well as labor inefficiencies.
“COVID-19 has also contributed to the delay, both directly (e.g. teams quarantined after a positive case) and indirectly (e.g. vendors’ supply chain delays),” he wrote. “The Navy has increased government oversight at the shipyard to preserve and mitigate further schedule delays.”
Newport News Shipbuilding spokesman Danny Hernandez told Defense News that the shipyard “increased resources and extended the use of overtime” to address the COVID-related delays and the growth work.
“Additional schedule reduction initiatives include the establishment of an operational command center that enables work teams to focus on expediting repair cycles,” he said, adding that the shipyard was coordinating with the entire supply chain in this effort.
“The unplanned growth was largely from emergent discovery as work teams inspected systems and equipment throughout the ship that cannot be inspected prior to the maintenance period. As we near completion, emergent discovery work has decreased, and we look forward to outfitting and final testing so we can redeliver a fully recapitalized carrier to the fleet,” he added.
Amid these challenges, Newport News Shipbuilding has been working on a record number of carriers at once. It is wrapping up the end of George Washington’s RCOH and working on the early phases of John C. Stennis’ RCOH. It is building carriers John F. Kennedy, Enterprise and Doris Miller and had been working on Gerald R. Ford’s first planned incremental availability, which ended on March 1. And decommissioned carrier Enterprise (CVN-65) is also at the yard awaiting disposal.
Baribeau said Stennis’ RCOH was pushed from January 2021 to May 2021 to allow for enough preparation time ahead of the ship entering the dry dock. After beginning work May 13, the ship is now 17.9% complete.
“USS John C. Stennis is not experiencing any parts issues due to USS George Washington’s extended duration. USS John C. Stennis and USS George Washington do share some manpower, but that has limited impact due to different labor and skill mix requirements at the respective phases of their RCOH,” he said.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.