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Faulty nuclear propulsion and elevators further delay USS Ford’s delivery

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) on its own power for the first time while leaving Newport News, Va. on 8 April 2017. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ridge Leoni/U.S. Navy)

Repairing the USS Gerald R. Ford’s nuclear propulsion systems and weapons elevators is taking longer than expected, causing a three-month delay in delivering an aircraft carrier that has continually run over budget and schedule since its construction began a decade ago.

The lead ship of its class, the Ford won’t join the fleet until October so crews can finish repairs and other work, Navy officials told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Tuesday.

“Obviously we would have liked to have gotten out in July,” said James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition. “I’m never happy delivering a ship back to the fleet late.”

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, asked Geurts if he was confident the Navy will deliver the Ford in October.

“With the information I have right now, sir, that’s where we’re sitting,” Geurts said.

The Ford is the first of a new generation of aircraft carriers that will replace the Nimitz-class carriers. While it boasts the newest technology, its $13 billion cost is more than double that of the last Nimitz carriers built, making it the Navy’s most expensive warship.

Problems with the nuclear propulsion systems were detected during sea trials, which are part of a 12-month “post-shakedown availability” to uncover any glitches during operations before the ship joins the fleet.

Geurts didn’t specify during the hearing what the nuclear propulsion problems were. USNI News reported Tuesday that the steam-driven turbine generators weren’t working properly, according to sources familiar with the repairs.

Troubles with the 11 weapons elevators — which are needed to swiftly load ordnance on planes and launch sorties — go back years. The Navy commissioned the ship in July 2017 without any working elevators. Navy leaders say all 11 elevators will be installed by October.

The Ford’s electromagnetic catapult system for launching aircraft still has bugs to work out. The system is designed to replace the steam-driven catapults to increase efficiency and reduce wear on the planes.

But 10 critical failures occurred during 747 at-sea launches, along with 10 landing failures during 763 attempts, according to Pentagon testing data reported by Bloomberg.


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