U.S. Navy's Troubled New Aircraft Carrier Delayed Again As Propulsion Issues Arise

Issues keep piling up for the Ford while three other ships in the class are now under contract and the Navy looks to retire the Truman early.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78)—Public Domain

The Navy's troubled new supercarrier has yet another problem, this time with its nuclear powerplant system. The news comes along with the revelation that USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) will spend three extra months in dry dock as part of an extended maintenance and rework period, not returning to the fleet in any condition until at least sometime in October of 2019. The propulsion issues are in addition to a slew of other problems the carrier is facing. Collectively, they call into question when the ship will be ready for actual operational service at all. You can read all about the vessel's other issues in our past reports linked here and here.

Ford's latest woes and the delay were first reported by USNI News' Sam LaGrone. His report details how Ford's powerplant was the source of an engineering casualty that resulted in the ship returning to port during a shakedown sortie. Apparently, the issue is with the ship's steam turbines, not with the nuclear reactors that drive them, but could be systemic in nature. 

LaGrone writes:

"Problems with the propulsion system are less understood publicly. The problem isn’t resident in the two nuclear reactors aboard but rather the ship’s main turbines generators that are driven by the steam the reactors produce.

Sources familiar with the extent of the repairs have told USNI News two of the main turbine generators needed unanticipated and extensive overhauls. As Geurts told Congress, the ship’s company discovered the problem during sea trials.

In May, Ford returned to port early after it suffered an engineering casualty during an underway ahead of the PSA [post shakedown availability].

...

The initial 12-month post-shakedown availability (PSA) was designed to fix any problems that arose during the carrier’s first at-sea period, when the crew works the ship hard to help identify any problems in construction, as well as to tackle any work that the Navy and shipbuilder agreed to bump from the construction period to PSA. The carrier had planned to conduct a one-year PSA, then work up with its crew and deploy in 2021."

USN

The report comes as the Navy is planning to bet even more heavily on the less than ready for combat Ford class design by purchasing two additional carriers in a block buy and retiring the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) with half its design life still ahead of it. Truman needs to receive its long-planned complex overhaul to realize its full-service life. Under the Navy's plan, that operation would be canceled and relatively young supercarrier—it was commissioned in 1998—would be retired. This will eventually result in the U.S. Navy carrier force dropping to ten carriers instead of the Congressionally mandated 11. You can read all about the puzzling decision to retire the Truman in this past special feature of ours. 

With ongoing issues with the ship's arresting gear, catapults, radar system, weapons elevators, and more, and now its powerplant, it's not clear when Ford will be truly ready for operations. It has already been delayed significantly and this that is due to major developmental problems. Facing the challenge of meeting its operational design objectives is a whole other level of challenge altogether. 

Meanwhile, the second and third ships in the class, USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and USS Enterprise (CVN-80), are already well under construction and slated to enter service in 2024 and 2028—if everything goes as planned. And now, with the block buy, another Ford class hull is under contract, the as yet to be named CVN-81.

So, the Ford program has to get on track. These ships have to work and generate air sorties as intended. If they are not fully capable, they will blow a hole in the Navy's ability to project power in the years to come. 

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com