NORFOLK — After a string of successes in the yard, there’s been setback with ongoing efforts to get the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford ready for sea, Navy leaders told lawmakers on Tuesday.
The Pentagon has tacked on three months to the Ford’s post-shakedown availability at the Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding complex here and won’t rejoin the fleet until October, at the earliest.
“We had that scheduled as a 12-month availability, where we were going to both complete some nuclear propulsion work on the plant, do some more of the ShipAlts (ship alterations) and then finish up the elevators,” James F. Geurts, the Navy’s assistant secretary for research development and acquisition, told House members on the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.
“Right now, my current estimate is that’s going to be an October delivery, vice July, so about a three-month delay.”
Geurts disclosed the latest delays during an exchange with Rep. Rob Wittman, a Virginia Republican who said he’d heard concerns voiced by shipyard workers that they wouldn’t have enough time to complete critical work on the warship.
Wittman asked Geurts if he remained confident that the carrier would return to the fleet in October, but the retired Air Force officer only promised that it was the current “best estimate” for a date based on “the information I have right now.”
“The fleet’s been notified on that. They’re working that into their train-up cycle afterwards," Geurts said.
The Ford’s extended time in the yard marks another delay for the first-of-class carrier.
Initially slated for delivery in 2015, it wasn’t turned over to the Navy until mid-2017. The flattop was commissioned on July 22, 2017.
Setbacks with first-of-class warships aren’t unusual but the $13 billion Ford’s have been complicated by its revolutionary technology.
Most of the gremlins initially lodged in the carrier’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALs, and its companion Advanced Arresting Gear. But workers also faced problems with the ship’s 11 Advanced Weapons Elevators.
Those snafus appeared to dissipate when the crew took delivery of the Ford’s second elevator earlier this month, but nine more must be built and certified before the carrier can start using them.
Navy leaders have not warned lawmakers that Ford’s latest lag will put off its first overseas deployment, which is still slated for 2022.
“I’m never happy delivering a ship back to the fleet late,” Geurts said. “So we’ve got all hands on deck working on that. But, uh, that’s where I see things right now.”
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.