Why Isn't the $13 Billion USS Ford Aircraft Carrier Ready for Service?

David Axe

Key point: 2024 is the new projected deployment date for the Navy's latest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

The U.S. Navy’s new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford might not be able to deploy until 2024. That’s years later than the Navy originally expected. The delay could further inhibit the ability of the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet to deploy carriers.

The nuclear-powered Ford, which cost no less than $13 billion to build, has been undergoing trials off the U.S. east coast since commissioning in 2017.

The Ford class, in theory, represents a major improvement over the previous Nimitz-class supercarriers. The Navy so has ordered four Fords. Lead vessel Ford was supposed to deploy for the first time in 2022.

The Fords are bigger than the Nimitzs are, boast superior sensors and a more efficient deck layout and feature precise electromagnetic catapults rather than the maintenance-intensive steam catapults that the Nimitzs have.

Sea trials have underlined a host of problems with the thousand-feet-long Ford that have compelled the Navy repeatedly to delay the ship’s first operational deployment. The Navy’s decision to conduct explosive shock trials of the new flattop before deploying her also has contributed to the delays.

The most high-profile failures have involved the Electromagnetic Launch System catapult, a new aircraft arresting system called the Advanced Arresting Gear, the weapons elevators that haul bombs and missiles from the munitions magazines to the deck and the ship’s primary sensor, the Dual Band Radar.

Ford has four weapons elevators, each requiring precision installation of components weighing tens of tons. As of October 2019, just three of the elevators were working. “We certified now and turned over to the crew three elevators,” James Geurts, the Navy's top acquisitions official, told lawmakers on Oct. 22, 2019. “The fourth one is very close.”

“We’re about 75 percent done with the entire project,” Geurts explained. “We’re talking about in some cases [lining up] 70-ton doors and hatches. It’s not a technology issue. It’s a construction completion issue in terms of getting all the doors and hatches where they need to be.”

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