US Navy places order for two more aircraft carriers as problems with lead ship persist

The US Navy has awarded Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding (HII-NNS) a contract for the construction of two new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, CVN 80 and CVN 81, in a bid to achieve cost savings by ordering the two ships at once.

An artist conception of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 80), the third nuclear-powered aircraft carrier of the Gerald R. Ford-class. Photo: HII

As per the navy, the savings exceed $4 billion when compared to the navy’s original cost estimates to procure these CVNs separately.

“Today marks a great team effort to drive out cost and maximize efficiency in government procurement,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer.

“One contract for construction of the two ships will enable the shipbuilder flexibility to best employ its skilled workforce to design once and build twice for unprecedented labor reductions while providing stability and opportunities for further efficiencies within the nuclear industrial base.”

The announcement of the two-carrier buy comes in the wake of a scathing report published by Pentagon’s testing office which said the lead ship in the class, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), demonstrated poor or unknown reliability of systems critical for flight operations including newly designed catapults, arresting gear, weapons elevators, and radar.

The report said the USS Gerald R. Ford would probably not achieve the sortie generation rate (SGR) (number of aircraft sorties per day) requirement, and would likely be short of berthing spaces. The berthing capacity is 4,660; more than 1,100 fewer than Nimitz-class carriers. Manning requirements for new technologies such as catapults, arresting gear, radar, and elevators are not yet determined and may require a return to standard manpower strategies.

What is more, the ship’s all new launch and recovery systems, the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), suffered ten failures each in over 700 shipboard launches and landings. “The reliability concerns are magnified by the current AAG design that does not allow electrical isolation of the Power Conditioning Subsystem equipment from high power buses, limiting corrective maintenance on below-deck equipment during flight operations,” the report said.

All the problems identified during the testing have delayed the ship’s first deployment to 2022. USS Gerald R. Ford entered service in 2017.


Refueling drone integration part of cost savings

Announcing the two-carrier construction deal, the navy said the contract includes ship integration costs of several modifications required to meet emerging threats including the F-35C Lightning II, MK 38 gun system and MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aircraft system. These modifications represent an additional $100 million in savings that is in addition to the $4 billion, since these new capabilities were not included in the original single-CVN Navy estimate. Plus, these new savings associated with new capabilities increases to $200 million if installed in the ship before delivery, in comparison to installing after ship delivery.

Enterprise (CVN 80) is the third ship of the Ford-class and the numerical replacement for USS Eisenhower (CVN 69). CVN 81, not yet named, will be the fourth ship of the class and will be the numerical replacement for USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). CVN 80 began advanced planning and initial long lead time material procurement in May 2016.

The second ship in the class, future John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) is scheduled to be christened in the fourth quarter of 2019 and delivered to the US Navy in 2022.