Pentagon to review Ford carrier program

Hugh Lessig
Contact Reporterhlessig@dailypress.com
Pentagon orders review of Ford carrier program

The Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier program will undergo an independent review at the behest of a key Pentagon official who continues to have concerns about critical systems on the new class of ship.

Frank Kendall, a Department of Defense undersecretary and lead weapons buyer, said in a memo that the review will last 60 days and cover five key areas of the $12.9 billion warship.

The Aug. 23 memo went to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and was first reported by Bloomberg.

The first-in-class Gerald R. Ford is set to deliver to the Navy later this year. The ship is currently undergoing testing at Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries. Construction is underway on the second Ford-class ship, the John F. Kennedy.

"I'm concerned about the scope and impact that key subsystem deficiencies will have on the ship and the implication for follow-on ships," Kendall said in the memo. "We need a clear objective understanding of the risks involved as soon as possible."

Navy officials said they are pushing to deliver the Ford to the Navy as soon as November. They have acknowledged the challenges of a first-in-class ship that is packed with new untested technology. But they also cite steady progress and note that the new carriers, once deployed, will serve the country into the latter half of this century.

Meanwhile, shipyard spokeswoman Christie Miller said in a statement: "We continue to work closely with the Navy to complete the Gerald R. Ford test program and apply lessons learned to reduce cost on CVN-79 (Kennedy.)"

The Kendall-commissioned study will focus on new systems that have been the subject of previous scrutiny. That includes electromagnetic catapults that launch aircraft and the advanced arresting gear, which ensures pilots can land safely.

The AAG in particular has prompted a steady drumbeat of recent concern. Earlier this year, a Department of Defense inspector general's report criticized how the Navy managed the AAG program. Then came a June memo from the Pentagon's chief weapons tester who cited several concerns about the Ford, calling AAG "the most serious limitation."

The advanced arresting gear is already installed on the Ford, and the ship's construction is essentially complete. The Navy is currently studying whether to employ AAG on future Ford-class ships or switch to another system.

Kendall also cites power generation as a concern, describing the issue as "propulsion and electrical system components that could be associated with the recent issues discovered with the Main Turbine Generators."

Other areas of focus will be Ford's dual band radar and advanced weapons elevators.

Instead of introducing new systems gradually over a series of ships, the decision was made some years ago to install many new systems on the Ford. Sen. John McCain has called that decision the "original sin" of the Ford program.

Kendall agreed.

"With the benefit of hindsight, it was clearly premature to include so many unproven technologies in the Gerald R. Ford," he stated in the memo. "That decision was made long ago as part of a DOD level initiative called 'transformation.'"

What the Pentagon must decide, Kendall said, is whether to keep on the current or make adjustments for future ships in the class.

"The first step in that process," he said, "has to be a completely objective and technically deep review of the current situation."

Lessig can be reached by phone at 757-247-7821.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
36°