23 July 2017

Aircraft Carrier Fail

The first in class Gerald Ford aircraft carrier has just been commissioned, unfortunately, it's not ready for combat, and won't be for a very long time, because the US Navy is deferring essential testing to the second ship in the class:
Three years late and costing $12.9 billion, the USS Gerald R. Ford finally gets commissioned today at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia. The latest aircraft carrier to join the American fleet has been burdened with—and this may shock you, considering we are talking about defense spending—cost overruns and significant delays. Despite being commissioned, it will be at least four years before the carrier will be able to deploy and truly become part of the fleet.

Many challenges remain for the carrier as substantial amounts of construction and testing remains to be completed. In fact, one significant problem to be solved involves launching and recovering aircraft, which is the sole reason aircraft carriers exist.


Incorporating many significant changes over its predecessors, the Ford-class will have newly designed catapults and arresting gear, a redesigned and smaller island superstructure that is farther aft, a larger flight deck, new radar systems, quicker weapons elevators and 300 percent more electrical capacity from newly designed nuclear reactors.

The problem is that many of these systems are immature and have not been able to perform up to expected levels. The San Diego Union-Tribune described the construction of the Ford as “a monument to the Navy’s and defense industry’s ability to justify spending billions on unproven technologies that often deliver worse performance at a higher cost.” Despite the lip service presented by Navy and industry officials, the construction of the Ford has been something of a disaster.

To be fair, no modern warship is ready to sail off to war the day after being commissioned. Tests need to be completed and the ships need to be put through their paces to discover any abnormalities or deficiencies that may not have been discovered during builder trials, when the ship is put to sea under the watchful eye of the company that constructed the ship.

The Ford is a special case, however. So many systems are deficient and remain unresolved that the Navy does not expect the carrier to reach IOC, or initial operational capability, until 2020 at the earliest.

Once commissioned it is expected the Navy will run the Ford through a series of tests between March and November of 2018. After that, it is hoped the Navy will put the carrier through full ship “shock trials”, though language placed in the House Armed Services Committee annual defense bill last month has given the Navy an out on conducting the test. Instead, trials would be conducted on USS John F Kennedy, the second carrier in the new class.

By skipping these tests on the Ford, Navy officials hope to make the carrier available sooner for overseas operations. It was reported back in late 2015 that conducting the tests would delay the carrier’s first deployment by two years as the Navy fixed what was broken.


Two recent reports have highlighted the difficulties with the Ford, which is designated CVN 78. The first report was issued in December 2016. The Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DTO&E) for the Department of Defense issued a stinging report that highlighted the many problems the ship was facing as it neared being delivered delivery.

Again, the issue here is all this unproven new tech. According to the report, “Poor or unknown reliability of the newly designed catapults, arresting gear, weapons elevators, and radar, which are critical for flight operations, could affect CVN 78’s ability to generate sorties, make the ship more vulnerable to attack, or create limitations during routine operations. The poor or unknown reliably of these critical subsystems is the most significant risk to CVN 78. Based on current reliably estimates, CVN 78 is unlikely to be able to conduct the type of high-intensity flight operations expected during wartime.”


The second report that was released earlier this month by the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, on Navy Shipbuilding was another harsh rebuke of the Navy’s decision to accept the Ford “from the shipbuilder in incomplete condition.”

As it stands now, according to the GAO, the Navy will spend at least an additional $779 million to complete construction of the ship and conduct tests that are required to validate the design. The GAO also echoed the earlier report in addressing the fact that the carrier will not have the necessary certifications to conduct aviation operations, navigation and cybersecurity protection and added that upon delivery the Ford will have “significant incomplete construction” where work on 367 compartments was deferred.
This should be the first example used in any definition of. "Hollow force."

Have I mentioned lately that our current system of defense procurement is seriously f%$#ed up?


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