JUST IN: Navy Secretary Defends Ford Carrier Following Criticism from Lawmaker

By Mandy Mayfield
USS Gerald R. Ford

Photo: Navy

Following a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill where one Democratic lawmaker criticized the Navy’s handling of the development of the USS Gerald R. Ford nuclear aircraft carrier program, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer hit back Oct. 23.

Spencer, speaking at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., accused Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., of disparaging the Ford program one day after she questioned top Navy leaders over program delays.

"I listened to Rep. Luria yesterday question my head of acquisitions and the head of my maintenance … and I look at her and other leadership on the Hill that continually disparage the Ford as a program and I get a little upset,” Spencer said. “Then I go, 'Wow, Richard, think of the positive[s] here … you could not ask for a better disinformation program for our competitors.'”

The Navy previously planned for the Ford, designated CVN-78 and the lead ship in its class, to have a deployment date of 2018. However, a litany of problems — many of which were revealed in the director of operational test and evaluation’s annual report that was released in January — have caused delays.

During an Oct. 22 House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on readiness hearing, Luria questioned James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition and Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, on the Ford’s delivery schedule.

“The original deployment should have been 2018 — a year ago — and best estimates we’re looking at 2024?” Luria asked Moore.

“I think we’ll beat that,” Moore said. “I think we’re going to beat 2024 for sure.”

One major developmental delay aboard the carrier has to do with its 11 advanced weapons elevators, Spencer said.

“We have problems with the elevators,” he said. However, “this morning we signed elevator number four over.

“Elevators four, five and six are moving in the ship,” he added. “They're going to be tested and certified. Everything will be working when she goes” into initial operational capability, or IOC.

The carrier will reach IOC and enter the fleet much earlier than 2024, Spencer said. 

It will then take 18 months for the air wing to become certified, after which it can be deployed, he said.

“The ship will be ready to serve … and it will be sooner than 2024,” he added.

Robert F. Behler, director of operational test and evaluation — in a report that included assessments of dozens of other weapon systems from all four services — outlined several problems with the Ford.

“Poor or unknown reliability of systems critical for flight operations” such as catapults, weapons elevators and radar may prevent it from generating sorties, the report said.

Additionally, mechanical problems forced the ship to return to port early during three of eight independent steaming events. Issues with the electromagnetic aircraft launch system, advanced arresting gear, dual band radar and advanced weapons elevator could delay initial operational test and evaluation, the report noted.

Spencer’s comments come after the secretary made a deal with President Donald Trump in January, promising that the elevator issues with the vessel would be fixed by the end of the summer or else Trump could “fire” him from his post, USNI News reported.

Following Spencer’s remarks, Luria said it was disappointing that the secretary found congressional oversight disparaging.

"The USS Ford will be six years delayed in its initial deployment, which causes incredible strain on the carrier fleet," Luria told National Defense in a statement. "Secretary Spencer himself promised the president that the weapons elevators would be fully functional by the end of this past summer.  It is now fall and no elevators accessing the ammunition storage areas are functioning, which results in a carrier with no combat capability. I have yet to see a detailed plan to fix the multitude of problems with these new technologies.  The Navy accepted the design of these systems and accepted the ship in an incomplete state from [Huntington Ingalls Industries] so it is absolutely my role to question Navy leadership on their current failure to deliver an operational ship to the fleet.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include comments from Luria. 

Topics: Navy News