Three months before the delivery of the Navy’s first-in-class, $13 billion Ford class carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, an independent review ordered by the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer has revealed some serious problems with the program.
“With the benefit of hindsight, it was clearly premature to include so many unproven technologies” Frank Kendall said in an August 23 memo to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, as reported by Anthony Capaccio of Bloomberg News.
The Navy has been looking forward to the Ford class, originally promised to be delivered in 2014, to slowly start replacing the Nimitz class carriers that were originally introduced in 1975.
The Ford class promises several improvements on the ageing Nimitzs, from improved launching and landing gear, radars, and ship design, all the way down to the nuclear core that powers the ship and it’s power-generation capabilities.
But aircraft carriers already constitute some of the largest and most complicated machines ever built by man, and the independent review suggests the program may be buckling under the weight of it’s own complexity.
“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.
“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.”
But the problems with the USS Gerald R. Ford might be a bit more serious than just growing pains. The independent review states that the launching and landing gear have problems and the dual-band radar has serious integration issues that “need to be avoided” with the next ships in the class.
Even the power plant of the ship, the nuclear core said to triple the Nimitz class’ output so it can power weapons of the future (think railguns and lasers), has serious problems with the main turbine generator, according to the memo seen by Bloomberg.
Unfortunately, any significant changes to the Ford class will have to wait for years, as the USS Gerald R. Ford is built, and the USS John F. Kennedy is nearly built, leaving any improvements available only for the third ship in the class.
As for now, “what we have to determine now is whether it is best to ‘stay the course’ or adjust our plans,” the independent review said.
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