In March of this year, NEWSREP reported on a new Navy proposal that sought to double its standing order of Ford class super carriers from one to two, creating a larger initial cost but a dramatic reduction in overall costs for the two vessels’ construction. The intent behind the proposal was simple: by building two of these ships at once, ship builders could use their employees more efficiently — moving specialized teams directly from one vessel to the other to complete the same tasks and dramatically reducing the number of man hours required to build the new ships, as compared to doing them one at a time.
This concept isn’t unheard of — it was actually employed in the construction of the Ford class’ predecessor, the Nimitz-class carriers. CVN-72 (USS Abraham Lincoln) and 73 (USS George Washington) and CVN 74 (USS John C. Stennis) and 75 (USS Harry S. Truman) were all purchased in two-ship buys. As a result, those four carriers were built for the lowest cost of all ten Nimitz-class carriers.
Bearing that in mind and with a second Ford-class carrier already under construction, U.S. lawmakers began seriously considering doubling the following order and building the third and fourth Ford-class vessels simultaneously. There’s just one problem with the idea: to date, the class’ namesake USS Gerald R. Ford still doesn’t quite work.
After issues with the new electromagnetic catapults and arresting gear (EMALS) dragging construction both past deadlines and spending caps, then problems with the carrier’s propulsion systems sending it back in for further repairs, most of what U.S. officials call the most advanced carrier on the planet is now up and running — except one very important piece: the munitions elevators.
“I think the case for two right now is weaker because of the lack of success in getting everything working,” the new head of the Senate Armed Forces panel, Senator James Inhofe, told the press about the double-carrier buy.
After investing $13 billion into the first new U.S. carrier in decades, the ship was supposed to be delivered for operational testing in 2015. Today, the Navy hopes to have six of the ship’s 11 munition elevators operational by this coming July. The rest won’t be completed until “sometime later.”
According to Beci Brenton, spokesperson for Huntington Ingalls (the firm tasked with the Ford’s construction), the elevator system’s completion “has been delayed due to a number of first-in-class issues associated with the first-time installation, integration and test of this new technology.” That may well be true, but it does little to assuage concerns among lawmakers that building two of these ships at once might result in the United States fielding four brand new carriers that just don’t work yet.
“I’m not opposed to it at this point,” Inhofe said. “We have a need for two carriers — that work. If this were a first delay I wouldn’t be as concerned.”