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Navy fires program manager for troubled Ford aircraft carrier

The program manager for the oft-delayed and over-budget aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford was fired last week.

But why, exactly, Capt. Ron Rutan was relieved on July 1 remains unclear.

Naval Sea Systems Command officials would only say that he was removed from the position “due to performance over time.”

Rutan, who took the position in August 2018, declined to comment via public affairs officers.

He will be moved to a spot on the NAVSEA staff, while Capt. Brian Metcalf will take his place, command spokesman Rory O’Connor said in an email.

As full ship shock trials loom in fiscal 2021, O’Connor said the command “must ensure that the team takes the opportunity to recharge and allow for fresh eyes on upcoming challenges.”

“While there is no perfect time for leadership transitions, it is prudent to bring in renewed energy now to lead the CVN 78 team through the challenges ahead,” he added.

While declining to say why Rutan was fired, O’Connor praised progress made on the troubled future carrier during the post-shakedown availability under Rutan.

“The subsequent 8 months of CVN 78′s post-delivery test and trials period has been impressively ahead of plan,” O’Connor added.

In an October Navy press release announcing the successful completion of the post-shakedown availability, Rutan acknowledged the challenges Ford presents.

“As the first new aircraft carrier design in more than 40 years, this ship is a test bed for the warfighting technology essential for air dominance in the 21st century,” Rutan said in the release. “It takes some patience on the front end to give the Navy a ship with the flexibility and resilience it will need during the next 50 years.”

Plagued by delays and cutting-edge equipment that has not worked, Ford’s cost was initially capped at $10.5 billion but has since ballooned to more than $13 billion.

The Congressional Research Service warned last year that the price could increase even more.

Ford’s problems have drawn bipartisan ire on Capitol Hill as well.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said last year that the Navy’s arrogance surrounding the Ford “ought to be criminal.”

At a House Armed Services readiness subcommittee hearing last fall, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria — a Virginia Democrat and retired surface warfare officer — grilled the brass on Ford’s long journey.

Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, the head of NAVSEA, conceded during the hearing that Ford was supposed to deploy in 2018, but that a deployment likely won’t come until 2024.

Luria decried the Navy’s lack of answers and questioned the billions spent on a carrier she called a “nuclear powered floating barge that’s not deployable.”

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