The U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier isn’t ready for warfare. The $12.9 billion USS Gerald R. Ford -- the most expensive warship ever built -- may struggle to launch and recover aircraft, mount a defense and move munitions, according to the Pentagon’s top weapons tester. On-board systems for those tasks have poor or unknown reliability issues, according to a June 28 memo obtained by Bloomberg News.
“These four systems affect major areas of flight operations,” Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, wrote Pentagon and Navy weapons buyers Frank Kendall and Sean Stackley. “Unless these issues are resolved, which would likely require redesigning” of the aircraft launch and recovery systems “they will significantly limit the CVN-78’s ability to conduct combat operations,” Gilmore wrote, using a technical name for the carrier.
The reliability woes mean that delivery of the Ford -- the first of three carriers ordered up in a $42 billion program -- will probably slip further behind schedule. The Navy announced last week that the ship, originally due by September 2014, wouldn’t be delivered before November this year because of continuing unspecified testing issues.
The service has operated 10 carriers since the retirement of the USS Enterprise in 2012. Extended deployments of the remaining ships have placed stress on crews and meant added strain meeting global commitments from the battle against Islamic State to ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, home to $5 trillion in annual trade.
A prolonged delay could also hamper the military if a new conflict arises.
“Based on current reliability estimates, the CVN-78 is unlikely to conduct high-intensity flight operations” such as a requirement for four days of 24-hour surge operations “at the outset of a war,” Gilmore wrote.
As delivery of the Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. vessel approaches, “my concerns about the reliability of these systems remain and the risk to the ship’s ability to succeed in combat grows as these reliability issues remain unresolved,” Gilmore said.
Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the Navy’s announcement of additional delays last week “unacceptable,” adding that it was a “case study in why our acquisition system must be reformed.”
A Navy spokeswoman, Lieutenant Kara Yingling, said the Navy was aware of the report but referred additional comment to Kendall’s office. Kendall spokesman Mark Wright said in an e-mail "we don’t feel it is appropriate to release our response to this internal memo.”