Pentagon Opens Review of Costly Carrier Over Navy Objections

  • Navy’s Mabus accepts review after it was delayed for a month
  • Carrier’s troubles risk breaching $12.9 billion spending limit

The Pentagon will start a review next month of the U.S. Navy’s costliest warship after resolving Navy objections to the inquiry aimed at determining why the aircraft carrier has faced years of delay.

Frank Kendall, the under secretary of defense for acquisition, ordered the review of the $12.9 billion USS Gerald R. Ford that’s being built by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. in part to see what lessons can be learned for production of the two other ships to follow in its class. Kendall agreed to delay the review’s start by a month to defuse a mini-mutiny of sorts by Navy officials who said the timing would be too disruptive.

The carrier’s increasing cost over the years caused Congress to set a $12.9 billion ceiling that might be breached by problems that have surfaced more recently. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s testing chief, warned in June that the Ford may struggle to launch and recover aircraft, mount a defense and move munitions, requiring costly improvements after it’s delivered.

“With the benefit of hindsight, it was clearly premature to include so many unproven technologies” on the vessel, Kendall said in an Aug. 23 memo addressed to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

Timing Questioned

In a response to Kendall on Aug. 31, Mabus said some decisions made years ago under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld set the stage for recent problems. “I am concerned by the timing of the review” because the service was focused on trying to deliver the vessel by year’s end, Mabus wrote. The carrier originally was to be delivered in September 2014.

Mabus said Kendall’s review “will be untimely in that it will impose added burden to the fully engaged system experts who are currently focused on completing the testing” for the sea trials needed this year before delivery.

“I cannot at this time support the proposed independent review but rather urge it be rescheduled on a not-to-interfere basis,” he wrote.

After discussions, Kendall and Mabus agreed to delay the review’s start until next month, when more data becomes available from qualification tests of the vessel’s advanced arresting gear needed to snag aircraft on landing, Mark Wright, a spokesman for Kendall, said in an e-mail.

‘Remain Focused’

Beci Benton, a spokeswoman for Newport News, Virginia-based Huntington, said in an e-mail that “we continue to work closely with the Navy to complete the Gerald R. Ford test program and apply lessons learned to reduce cost” on the next carrier. “We remain focused on completing the test program and getting the ship to sea.”

Captain Thurraya Kent, a Navy spokeswoman, suggested in an e-mail that the Ford’s latest delivery date of November is now unlikely in part because of two technical issues since July with the vessel’s main turbine generators, which provide its electricity. She didn’t cite a new delivery date.

“We continue to look for opportunities to get” the carrier “to sea as soon as possible,” Kent said. “The Navy is evaluating the most cost-effective and efficient schedule to complete sea trials and ship delivery.”

Kent said the Navy “is not requesting a cost-cap adjustment” from Congress. “We are continuing our efforts to mitigate the added costs identified in the course of the test program within the cost cap” of $12.9 billion.

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