Billions Over Budget and Two Years Late, Navy Ship Still Not Ready


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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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America’s most expensive aircraft carrier is under review again for underperforming on several key new technologies, according to a Pentagon memo obtained by Bloomberg News.

The lead weapons buyer for the Department of Defense ordered a review of the new technologies developed exclusively for the USS Gerald R. Ford and the new class of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, just three months before the ship is supposed to be delivered to the Navy.

“With the benefit of hindsight, it was clearly premature to include so many unproven technologies” on the aircraft carrier, Frank Kendall, who oversees all weapons research and purchases as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics at the Department of Defense, said in the Aug. 23 memo.

The new review will have to look at five areas of new technology, including electrical and propulsion problems with the main turbine generator, a problem with integrating the new radar technology, and problems with the aircraft launch and recovery systems.

One of the new technologies developed for the ship is the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) system, which captures planes as they land on the deck of the carrier.

After numerous technical failures, software flaws and, above all, mismanagement, the system is “not sufficiently mature for the planned use,” according to a July report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General.

Tests on the AAG were supposed to finish in 2009, but most of the system was redesigned, which delayed the timeline. If the Pentagon continues investing in the project, the tests likely won’t be complete until 2018.(RELATED: Flawed Aircraft Landing Gear Costs Taxpayers $750 Million)

Because the USS Ford is the first ship in its class, there were bound to be issues with the new technology, the Navy claims.

“The USS Ford, like every first-of-class ship ever built, has and will continue to face challenges,” Commander Mike Kafka, a Navy spokesman, told Bloomberg News in an interview. “However, the capabilities resident on Ford are needed now and in the future, and the Navy will continue to work hard to get Ford completed and into the fleet, paying close attention to both new and legacy systems.”

The project is still within the budget cap of $12.9 billion because Congress raised the cap from $10.5 billion to $12.9 billion in December 2013 — a $2.4 billion increase.

The Government Accountability Office remains skeptical that the Navy will complete the ship under the current $12.9 billion cap. Testifying last October before Congress, Paul L. Francis, managing director for acquisition and sourcing management at the GAO, said that in order to complete the ship within the budget, the Navy will have to sacrifice some of the advantages of the new technology.

The Navy will have to make so many compromises that they will end up with a “in a more expensive, yet less complete and capable ship at delivery than initially planned,” Francis said.

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