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Pentagon Conducting New Review of Gerald R. Ford Carrier Program

Tug boats maneuver Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) into the James River during the ship's Turn Ship evolution on June 11, 2016. US Navy photo.

Tug boats maneuver Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) into the James River during the ship’s Turn Ship evolution on June 11, 2016. US Navy photo.

The Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer is kicking off an independent review into the Navy’s Gerald Ford-class next-generation carrier program citing questions of performance of key systems aboard, according to an Aug. 23 memo obtained by USNI News.

The review – outlined in the memo to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus from Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall – calls for the Office of the Secretary of Defense to take a closer look at key subsystems of the carrier that Kendall said could hamper the “schedule and performance” of Ford (CVN-78) and follow on ships.

The memo was first reported by the Bloomberg wire service.

“What we have to determine now is whether it is best to ‘stay the course’ or adjust our plans, particularly for future ships of the class,” Kendall wrote
“The first step in that process has to be a completely objective and technically deep review of the current situation.”

Kendall placed the blame on the so-called “transformation” doctrine of then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon that directed the services to develop weapon systems at the edge of technological possibility. Several weapon systems were developed in the early 2000s under the transformation mandate and very few survived – including the Ford class

“With the benefit of hindsight, it was clearly premature to include so many unproven technologies in the Gerald R, Ford. That decision was made long ago as part of a DoD level initiative called ‘Transformation’,” Kendall wrote.
“What we have to determine now is whether it is best to ‘stay the course’ or adjust our plans, particularly for future ships of the class. The first step in that process has to be a completely objective and technically deep review of the current situation.”

The memo identified five areas the 60-day review will cover: propulsion and electrical system components, Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), Advanced Arresting Gear, Dual Band Radar and Advanced Weapon Elevators.

From the memo:
Power Generation – Propulsion and electrical system components that could be associated with the recent issues discovered with the Main Turbine Generators.

Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System – The lack of sufficient reliability growth demonstrated to date and the ability to support both surge and sustained aircraft operations.

Advanced Arresting Gear – The technical challenges identified in system hardware and software, achievement of design performance criteria for the operational envelope, reliability growth, and the ability to support both surge and sustained aircraft operations.

Dual Band Radar – Ship integration issues discovered on C VN 78 that need to be avoided with the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar on CVN 79 and later.

Advanced Weapon Elevators – System reliability and anticipated growth affecting the ability of installed systems to support requirements for both surge and sustained aircraft operations.

Those new technologies, “compounded the inherent challenges of a first in class design,” Navy spokeswoman Capt. Thurraya Kent said in a Tuesday statement to USNI News.
“Consequently, a comprehensive test program, the most integrated and complex shipbuilding test program to date, was developed to address the integration of these technologies. This test program has proven to be highly effective at resolving many first-of-class ship issues through the testing of developmental systems onboard CVN-78 and proving the performance of these systems.”

The $12.9 billion first-in-class ship is being built at the Huntington Ingalls Industries yard in Newport News, Va. and set to deliver to the service by the end of the year.

  • Robert Stevens

    Dramatic Re-design of critical components, better get it right even though it likely is the future !!

  • I wish the best for the Ford PRECOMMUNIT. These issues remind me of the Nimitz PRECOMMUNIT, of course, as I was at the middle of the testing and initial startup of the revolutionary 2-reactor propulsion plant that was forced on the Navy by the bean counters of those days. That revolutionary design was far more innovative and cutting edge than many people realize, but its flawless implementation (classified design) was directly due to the highly conservative but bold approach of the Rickover nuclear propulsion program.

    Not only did Westinghouse and GE have to work together (rather than compete), Rickover selected all his best people to man the ship for the (rather grueling) 3-year PRECOMMUNIT assignment. As far as I know, our mission to get it right the first time for the Nimitz made life a lot easier for all the rest of the Nimitz class. My career “high” in retrospect was being the senior officer on watch in the propulsion plant in charge of the initial criticalities for each reactor, a mere lieutenant successfully starting up the most advanced reactors ever conceived and built, with no one looking over my shoulder.

    Moreover, I learned so much “cutting edge” problem solving as the central test engineer for the reactor and propulsion systems that my later career as an engineering consultant to the even more complex commercial nuclear industry was without further challenge at 14 troubled commercial plants. More profoundly, I suppose, was that the leadership style for the Nimitz PRECOMMUNIT set the standard for nuclear safety culture, unmatched in my 50 years of nuclear industry experience, and to date largely unrecognized as a highly effective approach to management — probably the best ever Rickover management culture.

    • John Locke

      If only other programs and the technologies that enable them were managed by SME’s instead of “managers”.

    • disqus_zommBwspv9

      We need the Rickover style of management in procurement and ship design. Bet the Admiral would have never allow that joke to be built.

      • sferrin

        Define “joke”. Specifics please.

        • Secundius

          Skipjack was Built and SUNK! Funny Joke Right…

    • Curtis Conway

      PRECOM is a Hoot! Got to do two. Nothing like it in the universe. ‘BZ’ Technidigm, you did OUTSTANDING!

  • Curtis Conway

    Perhaps it is time to make the decision to commit to the Ford, Kennedy, and Enterprise (we already have from a budgetary point of view), but stretch out the production of the next two units until the technical problems are completely resolved and put to bed. In the meantime take advantage of the LHA-6 Class Large Deck Aviation Platform and build four more, alternating them over the next two decades, with well-deck units. At the end of that we will have a more diverse force (given the F-35B capabilities), and we will not be penalized by the ‘lack of the well decks’ because the LPD-17 and LX-R (who have expanded capability), along with the Mobile Expeditionary Basing (MEB) concept, which provides additional Ship-to-Shore Connectors (LCAC replacements), along with the JHSVs, and the expanded aviation platform vertical lift support (when so configured) . . . will provide more than sufficient support required for amphibious operations. Then, when something other than amphibious is anticipated, like humanitarian assistance operations, or a Civil-Military Operations Center as required as most likely will be required within the Global Maritime Partnership construct, we will have the perfect platform (LHA-6 Class vessel). The F-35B air (combat jet aircraft) and vertical lift (helicopters and V-22 Osprey) support, more than makes up the difference, and provides the Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) far more versatility & effectiveness, particularly in this extending GWOT combat environment we are continuing to experience, and will for the foreseeable future.

    As soon as the USS America (LHA-6) completes its first deployment this next year, the wisdom of this approach will more than prove itself, and become self-evident. Those invested in the current model are trying to make sure we get so far down the ‘no well deck LHA-6’ path, that there will be no going back. I hope the decision makers have the integrity to see that path and modify their plan. It is not too late, and we can do it for about the same budget, with far more capability & versatility as a result.

    • delta9991

      My only issue with stretching out till technical problems are worked out is who decides when they’re done? If i’m not mistaken GAO are still saying the F/A-18E/F APG-79 is inoperable and provides marginal benefits over its predecessor (which i think 99% of people know is utter crap) and most agencies of the like are hard wired to do. We might as well build them and let the real operators figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how to modify and fix em the same as with any other class. As for the rest of your post, I completely agree. The America class is so fundamentally different from what people are used to seeing so its a bit hard to digest but its value will be evident soon enough. I am intrigued with why you’d like to alternate between LHA-6 and LHA-8 classes. I guess i see marginal benefit of extra well deck capacity (with LHx, MEB, LPD-17 like you said) at the expense of what makes the LHA-6 great, all the extra maintenance and aviation support.

      • Curtis Conway

        “I am intrigued with why you’d like to alternate between LHA-6 and LHA-8 classes.”

        There are, and will be, times when the extra well deck will come in handy. Particularly when performing humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operations . . . and the LPD/LX-R need to be somewhere else (like the other side of the island when in Pacific archipelagos). Unfortunately, these kinds of details (when the hurricane/tsunami will strike) will not be know before deployment, and reaction to this phenomena will be required by units in theater as directed by CoC in the AOR. Therefore, the deployment cycles should incorporate a rotation of, or a tailoring to, the anticipated operations at hand, and preserving/facilitating the two disparate type Large Deck Aviation Platforms in theater. The availability of what could be a pure F-35B Expeditionary Strike Group at short notice in the AORs is my goal, given force mix available. With half the force ‘with’, and half the force ‘without’ well decks, the rotation is fairly simple, and as anyone can notice in following LHA/LHD deployments, we often have two units in the same hemisphere. For short fused pick-up games this is optimal. If large scale amphibious operations are envisioned, there is plenty of time to plan and support.

        As for “We might as well build them and let the real operators figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how to modify and fix em the same as with any other class.” . . . there have been a few USMC Aviation generals who have had a very definite attitude about LHA-6 aviation-centric capabilities. I would particularly like to see their evaluation of the utility of the LHA-6 Class in the Med, Caribbean, South China Sea, Korean AOR, and both coasts of Africa. In most of those scenarios the additional aviation assets on the platform of various types provides their own enhanced operational capacity to the mission at hand. An Arctic ARG scenario I suspect would very much benefit from more aviation platforms, although LCAC/SSC operations on the ice is not something we have practiced much.

      • Curtis Conway

        I am a huge fan of the revolutionary AN/APG-79 AESA radar in the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, and EA-18G Growlers (which bagged an F-22 in an exercise). They have no problems a few spare parts, and enhancements suggested by Raytheon cannot improve (notice I didn’t say repair), over time, and we should get on with the ECM/EW capabilities development. That, and the installation of Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) will make the 4th Gen & 5th Gen USN/USMC team most effective, if not un-defeat-able. We need to get on with it and finish the job.

      • Curtis Conway

        To answer the question about the determination if the problem has been fixed would be the completion of a deployment with a decent safety record demonstrated with no major accidents.

    • sferrin

      ” but stretch out the production of the next two units until the technical problems are completely resolved and put to bed.”

      Yeah, because stretching things out always makes costs go down. Any overblown “technical problems” will have long been solved before they even start laying the keel of Enterprise. All f–king with the schedule is going to get you at this point is exploding costs.

      • Curtis Conway

        They can lay the keel, and build the ship. Those items are not in contention, except for perhaps the Main Turbine Generators and the Advanced Weapon Elevators, which will probably be fixed in the short term. However, those risk equations involving safety of flight and launch & recovery of aircraft are a bit different.

        • sferrin

          You didn’t read my post. The problems are almost resolved NOW. Buy the time they get around to laying the keel of Enterprise development will be wrapped up. That’s how new programs work. Note how the “tailhook that will never work” on the F-35C is working better than any other in the USN now. That anybody could think building a new class of carrier, or new stealth fighter, is like growing corn boggles the mind.

          • Curtis Conway

            I agree with you, and . . . read your post very carefully. However, it’s not the F-35C’s tailhook (now fixed), but rather the ‘Magic Carpet’ that brings them aboard that must be modified to hit different wires at a different place instead of the same wire in the same place every time. The AAS is still an unknown quantity to the public, and no recent updates that I am aware of have discussed specific improvements. It’s not like someone is going to steal General Atomics design. The system: Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) simply must move from prototype to production and that is not as simple as some characterize. After a full deployment completion, and tear-down and inspection . . . I will be satisfied the system is solid for manned flight safety with no questions asked.

            Concerning size of the US Navy, you are absolutely correct . . . United States Navy Surface Combatants are more capable than any other current surface combatant afloat today, or HiStorically speaking in the Navy, although the Japanese and South Korean Destroyers are a very close second, and we must help them upgrade theirs (BMD & SM-3). The ‘fly in the ointment’ is that capability translates into it being in a specific location on the globe. Every COCOM Commander in testimony to Congress relates the inability to maintain presence. All of that capability does not include teleportation, or the ability to be in two places at once. The policies of this, and some previous administrations, has reduced the force, and the vacuums created have been filled with more capable bad guys than ever before in HiStory. If you have ever been coyote hunting . . . well it’s good practice for dealing with these new bad actors. The United States Navy needs 50+ new multi-warfare guided missile frigates pure and simple, and LCS is not it presently, and with their stated manning plan, never will be! No one can take pride in ownership of their of equipment, just leave their problems for the next rotation. It’s human nature.

          • sferrin

            “but rather the ‘Magic Carpet’ that brings them aboard that must be modified to hit different wires at a different place instead of the same wire in the same place every time.”

            That’s not a flaw. Just because it does a better job of landing than pilots doesn’t mean it sucks. What it DOES do is give you a different set of issues to work through. That’s not a broken system, it’s the way of the world. When they brought the Tomcat onboard all the JBDs had to be replaced with water-cooled ones because the TF-30s were so much hotter than previous engines. Didn’t mean the Tomcat sucked. Didn’t mean we wanted to go back to F-4s. Just meant there was a different set of problems to work through. Same with the AAG. Solving technical problems is easy. The things that give me the heebs are things like ships going into harms way under-armed, poor training, and poor maintenance.

          • Curtis Conway

            Once again I’m with you. Been there and done that. Love the F-14 Tomcat to this day particularly with its GE F110 engines. You would just think we would get smarter over time, but human nature seems to be like an anchor on the culture.

  • Secundius

    Let Me Guess! They Finally Figure Out That EMALS Doesn’t Actually Work in the REAL World, and ONLY In the World of VIRTUAL REALITY…

  • John B. Morgen

    The Navy should cancel the Ford class program, then transfer the remaining funding to build two more Nimitz class aircraft carriers. We should cut our losses before the this programs sinks us all. As for the aircraft carrier Ford, refit and repair any damages, and replace any defected parts or machinery; then deploy her with the Fleet. This has gone long enough with all these unnecessary problems that should been tested out on land before fitting out on the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). There are only two British warships that had similar problems from the start; the HMS Renown and her sister the Repulse, both were battlecruisers. The Royal Navy referred them as [Refit and Repair].

    • sferrin

      No. No, they shouldn’t. About the only idea worse than the one you’ve proposed that I can think of would be to cancel the Ford class and burn Newport News to the ground.

      • John B. Morgen

        The budget for the carrier program is burning a hole like with [“Alien” acid] in the Navy’s overall budget, and we are short on super aircraft carriers. We could have built between two or three Nimitz class carriers—by now. This is a major but a profound folly that the project is causing. “It is time to [let go].”

  • PolicyWonk

    “With the benefit of hindsight, it was clearly premature to include so many unproven technologies in the Gerald R, Ford. That decision was made long ago as part of a DoD level initiative called ‘Transformation’,” Kendall wrote.
    ================================================================
    I remember the whole “transformational” initiative. Virtually overnight, every weapons system being touted by the MIC or (fill in weapons system here) program office, no matter how antiquated, became (via the magic of marketing!) “transformational”.

    But big leaps in technology involve a lot of risk – and many leaps mean a lot of risk. The USS Ford became a highly experimental (and risky) platform, despite being named after a fundamentally conservative man.

    Gerry Ford was a true leader, patriot and an outstanding public servant.

    • Curtis Conway

      “But big leaps in technology involve a lot of risk – and many leaps mean a lot of risk. The USS Ford became a highly experimental (and risky) platform…”. Amen!

      The LCS Program did the same thing, only they stacked on top of that a fundamentally flawed manning concept. The US Navy quoted the success of Blue & Gold crews, then aborted Blue & Gold it into something else, that is fundamentally flawed. The secret to success is THE PEOPLE and their pride in THEIR equipment. The US Navy is no doubt getting good people, providing awesome training and providing some good equipment, then taking that institutional memory and pride of ownership away from the resident crew as they rotate off, and perhaps not come back to the same platform. This is ‘Bureaucrats on Parade’ making operational decisions, based on budget savings, in a high risk environment, that only stack risk on top of risk. NUTS!!! Who will pay in the end (?) the sailors in combat! That process is FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWED!

  • Chris

    Can a Brit add a comment to the discussion please?
    From this side of The pond it utterly astounds us here that ONE carrier has cost some $16 Bn all up and actually doesn’t work (yet). The USA has an enviable ability to build ‘stuff’ that works out of the box and stays working. So to see this catalogue of failures that are so publicly visible is just very heartbreaking to see.

    Can I put a British perspective on this as I believe the lessons we learned are relevant? The UK Queen Elizabeth was first laid down in July 2009. In 2010 our new Government reviewed the F-35B / STOVL specification to go to an F-35C / CATOBAR specification. Long story short after a £100 Mn review it was shown that EMALS was not only unproven with no delivery date and uncosted the AAG system was in a similar state. Add to that the much longer lead times and costs of the F-35C the nett result was the second carrier (Prince of Wales) would never be used so we reverted to the original F-35B specification. QE was floated out in July 2014 and is now in final fit out ready for builder’s trials late this year and delivery to Portsmouth early 2017.

    The ships will be some 71,000 tons, 280 Metres long and have a full width deck area similar to the Ford. Two islands of course!

    The ship’s two radar systems are the best in the world (sorry). The S1850M is already used on our Type 45 Destroyers which are assigned to your carrier groups in the Med. and Gulf. and the Artisan 3D Type 997 AESA has already been fully tested and run up in limited power due to dockside safety.

    We decided in the ’60s there is really no strategic advantage to nuclear power on surface ships (although we build excellent nuclear subs.) and so we use two Rolls Royce MT30 Gas Turbines and backup Wartsilla diesels with electric drive and an electric ship. The same system used on your Littoral and DDG destroyers. Your Congress did a comparison and in 1997 the difference was CV: $14.094 Bn and CVN: $22.222 Bn over a 50 year life. $8 bn in ’97 is worth $12 Bn now.

    The automatic weapon handling ‘HMWHS’ used on QE is a ready proven warehouse system beefed up for naval use. We only need a base crew of some 600 with an aircrew this rises to 1600.

    And for this we are paying some £7 Bn ($10 Bn) all up for two carriers carrying some 45 RAF and FAA F-35Bs each. An additional range of RAF, Marine and Army helicopter assets can be deployed when fewer F-35s are required.

    I am in no way suggesting the QE is as capable as the Ford but when we can build 3 very capable carriers for less than the cost of one Ford surely questions have to be asked?

    • Secundius

      Problem is the “Jones” Act of 1920, which Prevents the US Government and the US Navy. Buying Ships from Foreign Sources, but Still Allowing US Ships to Receive Foreign Shipyard Repairs and Foreign Manufactured Parts.

      As for the F/A-35B (BK.3, British Designation of the “B” Model) over the F/A-35C. COST! British Defense Budget was LEAN at the Time when the First “Keel” was Laid. So No Catapult was EVER Drafted into the Design…

  • brian

    As usual most projects big and small set forth unrealistic timelines and costs. Tis the nature of the species. Overly optimistic in the face of the daunting task ahead. No matter, the key factor (as always) are expectations. CVN 78 will enter operational service and set the standard for its class. We just need to manage the fact that this will not occur before fall of 2020.

  • ddearborn

    Hmmm

    From what I gather you have never served in uniform Sam. I was wearing green before you were born. It is precisely because of the censorship, denial and outright ignorance of people like you the traitors and thieves have been able to destroy our military, cripple our economy and rip away our freedoms. What ever you think you are protecting one thing is for sure: it is not the United States of America.