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The US Navy fixed the propulsion problems on its $13 billion supercarrier, but the ship still has serious issues

Shipbuilders and sailors have fixed the propulsion plant problems on the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of a new class of supercarriers that is behind schedule, over budget, and still struggling with development issues.

Work on the ship’s propulsion plant was completed toward the end of July, the Navy announced in a statement Monday.

Problems with the carrier’s propulsion system first popped up in January of last year during sea trials. A “manufacturing defect” was identified as the problem. Troubles were again noted in May just three days after the ship set sail for testing and evaluation, forcing it to return to its home port early.

photo_camera On Jan. 3, sailors from the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford's weapons department train on an elevator certified and operating on board the warship. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeff Troutman/Navy)
The Navy’s new plan to fix Ford’s elevator failures

With only two of Ford’s 11 elevators operating — and no firm schedule for delivering the remaining nine — the Navy brought a “team of experts” from both the government and private industry on board the Ford to fix the snafus, according to a top Pentagon official.

In March, James Geurts, the Navy’s acquisition boss, told US lawmakers that scheduled maintenance on the Ford would require another three months beyond what was initially planned to deal with problems with its nuclear power plant, weapons elevators, and other unspecified areas.

The Navy said that the “Ford’s propulsion issues weren’t with the nuclear reactors themselves, rather the issues resided in the mechanical components associated in turning steam created by the nuclear plant into spinning screws that propel the ship through the water.”

While the completion of the work on the Ford’s power plant moves the ship closer to returning to sea, the carrier is still having problems with a critical piece of new technology — the advanced weapons elevators. The elevators are necessary for the movement of munitions to the flight deck, increased aircraft sortie rates, and greater lethality, but only a handful of the elevators are expected to work by the time the ship is returned to the fleet this fall.

Lawmakers recently expressed frustration with the Navy’s handling of the Ford-class carrier program.

“The ship was accepted by the Navy incomplete, nearly two years late, two and a half billion dollars over budget, and nine of eleven weapons still don’t work with costs continuing to grow,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said late last month.

“The Ford was awarded to a sole-source contractor,” which was asked to incorporate immature technologies “that had next to no testing, had never been integrated on a ship — a new radar, catapult, arresting gear, and the weapons elevators,” he continued, adding that the Navy entered into this contract “without understanding the technical risk, the cost, or the schedules.”

Inhofe said that the Navy’s failures “ought to be criminal.”

The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford on July 16 departed Norfolk Naval Base for a yearlong stay at Newport News Shipyard. (Mark D. Faram/Staff)
Why the Navy thinks the carrier Gerald R. Ford will work after all

The combination punch of good news at the Senate Armed Services' Seapower Subcommittee included testimony that the Navy has recorded significant cost savings during the building of the John F. Kennedy, the next Ford-class carrier, and is prepping to purchase two similar flattops in Fiscal Year 2020.

The Navy has been struggling to incorporate new technologies into the ship, but the service insists that it is making progress with the catapults and arresting gear used to launch and recover aircraft, systems which initially had problems. The elevators are currently the biggest obstacle.

“As a first-in-class ship, some issues were expected,” the Navy said in its recent statement on the completion of relevant work on the Ford’s propulsion system.

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