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US aircraft carrier repairs delayed over a year

The aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) is in the East China Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Paul Kelly/Released)
March 22, 2022

A United States Navy aircraft carrier is more than one year behind schedule as the ship undergoes repairs that were delayed due to pandemic-related labor issues.

According to Defense News, the aircraft carrier USS George Washington began its mid-life refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) in August 2017 at Newport News Shipbuilding. The process includes refueling the nuclear power reactor and conducting repairs and upgrades.

USS George Washington’s repairs should have been completed by August 2021, but despite successfully reaching its midway point on time in 2019, the Navy told Defense News that the ship will not be completed until 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 told the outlet in an email earlier this month.

The main factors that caused the delay were unplanned growth work and labor challenges.

“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.”

Meanwhile, Newport News Shipbuilding has been working on an unprecedented number of carriers simultaneously, including John C. Stennis’ RCOH. The company is also building carriers John F. Kennedy, Enterprise and Doris Miller, and just completed Gerald R. Ford’s first planned incremental availability.

Newport News Shipbuilding is also preparing to dispose of the decommissioned carrier Enterprise (CVN-65).

Stennis’ RCOH was also delayed, being pushed from January 2021 to May 2021 to allow for adequate preparation time. After roughly 10 months of work, the carrier is just under 20 percent 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.

Late last year, Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, the commander of the Japan-based U.S. 7th Fleet, called for the U.S. to send more aircraft carriers to the Pacific to counter China, noting that the combined forces of the U.S. and its allies represent “an incredible amount of power,” but said the allies should strive to place even more warships in the Indo-Pacific region.

“When we think about how we might fight, it’s a large water space, and four aircraft carriers is a good number, but six, seven or eight would be better,” Thomas said.