The $13-billion USS Gerald R. Ford is already behind schedule, and the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier is facing more delays after the Pentagon’s top weapons tester concluded the ship is still not ready for combat despite expectations it would be delivered to the fleet this September.
According to a June 28 memo obtained by CNN, Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, said the most expensive warship in history continues to struggle launching and recovering aircraft, moving onboard munitions, conducting air traffic control and with ship self-defense.
“These four systems affect major areas of flight operations,” Gilmore wrote in his report to Pentagon and Navy weapons buyers Frank Kendall and Sean Stackley. “Unless these issues are resolved … they will significantly limit CVN-78’s ability to conduct combat operations.”
Fixing these problems would likely require redesigning the carrier’s aircraft launch and recovery systems, according to Gilmore, a process that could result in another delay for a ship that was expected to join the fleet in September 2015.
The report comes just days after the Navy announced the Ford will not be delivered before November 2016 due to unspecified testing issues, walking back testimony from April in which Stackley told Congress the Ford would be ready by September.
Now that delivery date could be pushed to 2017, according to the Navy.
“Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System testing was successfully completed in May 2016 and testing of the Dual Band Radar, Advanced Weapons Elevator are projected to complete in time to support upcoming sea trials and first aircraft operations scheduled for early next year,” a Navy official told CNN.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slammed the latest delay as “unacceptable” and “entirely avoidable” in a statement earlier this month.
“The Ford-class program is a case study in why our acquisition system must be reformed — unrealistic business cases, poor cost estimates, new systems rushed to production, concurrent design and construction, and problems testing systems to demonstrate promised capability,” McCain said.
The USS Gerald Ford is the first of three Ford-class carriers ordered by the Navy with combined cost expected close to $42 billion.
“After more than $2.3 billion in cost overruns have increased its cost to nearly $13 billion, the taxpayers deserve to know when CVN-78 will actually be delivered, how much developmental risk remains in the program, if cost overruns will continue, and who is being held accountable,” he added.
But officials from both the Navy and Department of Defense said the issues keeping the 1,100- foot supercarrier from active duty are the result of decisions made when the Pentagon committed to building the advanced ship in 2008.
“The decision to proceed with these three systems was made many years ago, prior to their maturation, when transformational approaches to acquisition were a DOD policy,” said Mark Wright, a Defense Department spokesman. “This report from Dr. Gilmore clarifies concerns he had previously raised on this program.”
As the first carrier of its class, the USS Gerald R. Ford was designed to incorporate technology and systems that were at different stages of development when the program began.
Integrating and testing developmental systems at various levels of technical maturity “compounded the inherent challenges of a first in class design,” according to the Navy.
“Consequently, a comprehensive test program, the most integrated and complex shipbuilding test program to date, was developed to address the integration of these technologies,” the Navy told CNN, adding that despite the delays, this program has proven to effectively resolve many first-of-class ship issues and prove the performance of the ship’s systems.