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Navy: Despite Cost Overruns Ford Carriers are Built for Affordability

A composite photo illustration representing the Ford-class aircraft carrier, USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79). US Navy Photo

A composite photo illustration representing the Ford-class aircraft carrier, USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79). US Navy Photo

The head of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier program offered a mea culpa for cost overruns on the service’s new Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) nuclear carrier class in a Tuesday briefing with reporters.

“Nobody will tell you we’re satisfied with the cost performance. There’s a litany of reasons why we have those cost challenges but we believe we have those under control,” said Rear Adm. Thomas Moore, program executive officer for carriers for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).
“The original contract was signed at $10.5 billion total and we’re now expected to come in at $12.9 billion.”

Cost over runs on the Ford have been the subject of intense security from Congress and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in addition to developmental delays in key new technologies slated for the carrier. Congress has imposed a $11.4 billion cost cap on the next ship in the class.

Moore blamed overruns on Navy initiated design changes on the hull and rising costs of the three major new technologies — Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) and the Dual Band Radar — destined for the carrier as primary cost culprits.

“There are a lot of reasons for that cost growth. Some of those are self inflicted some of those are for reasons we can’t control. About 40 percent of that cost growth is associated with government furnished equipment (GFE),” Moore said.
“The other 60 percent: 30 percent is associated with the cost of changing the design or finishing design of the ship and 30 percent is associated with the construction performance.”

But now with Ford almost 70 percent completed, Moore said the construction lessons would be best applied to the next ship — John F. Kennedy (CVN-79).

Moore said the program estimates it can reduce the construction costs for Kennedy by $1.2 billion.

Despite cost overruns, the Fords are built to ultimately save the Navy money over the 94 years the ships will be in service.

“These ships are very expensive to build and very expensive to maintain and in today’s budget environments there was a real drive for affordability,” Moore said.

Fords are designed with a high degree of automation to drive down the cost of personnel on this ships that account for about 40 percent of the operations and maintenance over the life of each hull, Moore said.

Though the final crew numbers have not been finalized, NAVSEA hopes to shed 900 to 1,200 sailors from the ship’s company and the air wing compared to 6,000 sailors aboard a current Nimitz-class (CVN-68).

“That’s a cost savings of about $4 billion dollars over the life of the ship,” Moore said.

Other costs savings will come from the ability of the ship to operate longer without depot maintenance availabilities. Currently Nimitz carriers need a depot repair every 32 months. Fords will go 42 months between depot availabilities.

The ships will also bring more combat power than Nimitz carriers.

“The Nimitz can give you up to 120 sorties a day sustained over 30 days. Ford can get you 160. Sortie generation rate for aircraft carriers is really our measure of combat capability,” Moore said.
“It’s because we really redesigned the flight deck in a way that we can turn that plane around quicker. One of the things we did was talk to NASCAR and asked them ‘How do you get your cars turned so quickly?’ and learned some things from them.”

Fords have three times more electrical power than current Nimitz carriers at 104 MW. The extra power could be a boon to future defensive weapon systems on the carrier.

“It’s not hard to imagine we could take all of [current systems] off and have the carrier set up with a ring of lasers or other directed energy weapons to provide a self defense capability for the ship,” Moore said.

The Navy plans to christen Ford on Saturday and then move the ship from the graving dock at Newport News Shipbuilding to finish the rest of the work pier side.

Following construction, the Ford will begin 27 months of testing ahead of a planned commissioning in 2016.

  • Ruckweiler

    $12.9 Billion for an aircraft carrier and $3.5 Billion for a destroyer!?! At this rate, the Navy will soon be able to afford 1-2 ships annually of any type, if that. What about the dollars needed to maintain and build for the rest of the fleet? As an example, our minesweeping capability is a joke and the entire world knows it. The problem is that minesweepers aren’t “sexy” enough for the senior uniformed and civilian leadership. What’s the priority? The defense of the nation or expensive build-itis?

  • Reality_Check

    Bad news.

    Obama just decided to scrap the entire Ford class Air Craft Carrier program.

    To build these ship is to promote NASCAR culture, which is to promote the culture of White Southern heterosexual males, which might offend some non-white or non-male, or non-heterosexual sailor.

    Obama was left with no choice, except to protect the Navy’s core values, and scrap the whole program.

    • Secundius

      @ Reality_Check.

      If that’s to case, these must be the one’s that slipped through the Wormhole…

  • Emri Pamundur

    “the 94 years the ships will be in service”—does that seem a little, umm…oh wait, I just checked. 94 years ago was 1920, and there are plenty of ships from 1920 still in service. I mean, there are, aren’t there. Really? Oh, well, I guess with that projection they’re taking into account the fact that the rate of technological progress is slowing, so that current technology will be much more valuable 94 years from now than 1920’s technology is today. Yeah, that must be it.

    Speaking of technology, I wonder if they’ve heard of Sunburn missiles?

    • Secundius

      @ Emri Pamundur.

      If the SR-71A Blackbird can’t fly “On the Deck” at Mach 3, neither can the Sunburn. And the SR-71A was all Titanium…

      • Emri Pamundur

        @Secundius Let me follow your logic: using 1960s technology, the USA couldn’t fly a winged vehicle at Mach 3 at sea level; therefore, 35 years later, the Russians were incapable of developing a supersonic anti-ship missile that can take out an aircraft carrier? Point is, in the 1990s the US Navy essentially became obsolete, but apparently they haven’t figured it out yet.

        • Secundius

          @ Emri Pamundur.

          Unless the Russian’s have Reversed Engineered Martian or Klingon technology. Sunburn missile STILL limited to the same Physics that applied to the SR-71A Blackbird…

        • Secundius

          @ Emri Pamundur.

          Unless the Russian’s have somehow Captured KLINGON Technology and Reverse-Engineered it into a Missile System. Of a Projectile traveling at ~Mach 2.8 at 50-feet Altitude, the Same Physics of 1963, are STILL Valid in 2015. But then again, if the Russian’s Actually have KLINGON Technology. They really won’t need a Missile to Destroy US, WOULD THEY. Because, WE’D ALREADY BE DEAD…

  • Secundius

    How it be Deemed “Affordable” when Things are already going wrong, and it hasn’t even been commissioned yet…

  • Secundius

    Another thing I find interesting about this article and your terminology of being “Affordable”. Why is it necessary to SHAVE $180-Million USD. off the Radar System for the remain 9-ship’s in the class. That’s a saving of ~$16.2-Billion USD. What’s that money being used for? Is there more problem to this Class, that hasn’t been mentioned yet!!!

  • vincedc

    According to another article in USNI, the AAG is a fixed price contract and General Atomics has to eat the cost of the overruns. You don’t get to blame that one on the overall cost of the carrier.