Monday, January 13, 2014

Ford Problems

Stars and Stripes reports (1) that the Boston Globe has obtained a Navy report that describes potentially severe problems being encountered during continued fitting and testing of the new carrier, the Ford.  Here’s some excerpts from the article.

“The U.S. Navy's newest aircraft carrier, a multibillion-dollar behemoth that is the first in a next generation of carriers, is beset with performance problems, even failing tests of its ability to launch and recover combat jets, according to an internal assessment by the Pentagon obtained by the Boston Globe.”

“The Globe reported Friday that early tests are raising worries that the USS Gerald R. Ford, christened in November, may not meet the Navy's goal of significantly increasing the number of warplanes it can quickly launch — and could even be less effective than older vessels.”

“At least four crucial components being installed are at risk because of their poor or unknown reliability, states the 30-page testing assessment, which was delivered last month to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other top Pentagon leaders.”
“In addition to the launching and landing systems for jet fighters, officials are also concerned about its advanced radar system. It also remains unclear if a key weapons elevator will work as promised.”

“A number of other systems, such as communications gear, meanwhile, are performing at less than acceptable standards, according to the assessment by J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation. Gilmore concluded that the Navy has little choice but to redesign key components of the ship.”

I don’t find the existence of problems to be terribly troubling.  A new ship class is expected to have teething problems.  The disappointing aspect of this is that the major problems have been predicted for several years, now.  Components such as EMALS, the AAG, radar, etc. were installed before completing development and testing.  It’s a lot easier to find and fix problems on land, in a test facility, then to do so on an installed system.  Large amounts of money have already been spent retrofitting the Ford to accommodate modifications and fixes to these systems and, apparently, much more will be spent in the coming years.

Was there really a need to rush these systems into service?  None are game changers from a combat perspective.  In theory, they’ll provide some nice advantages eventually but we have a bunch of Nimitz carriers that are functioning just fine without them.  Couldn’t we have waited five more years and installed the new systems on the next carrier after a thorough development and testing period?  We’d have saved many hundreds of millions of dollars and wound up with mature designs.  Did we learn nothing from the LCS fiasco?  Instead, the Navy continued its recklessly irresponsible pattern of concurrent design and production and concurrent R&D and production as we’ve discussed repeatedly in previous posts.

The Navy’s response was predictable.

“Rear Adm. Thomas J. Moore, the program executive officer for aircraft carriers, defended the progress of the ship in an interview and expressed confidence that, in the two years before delivery, the Navy and its contractors will overcome what he acknowledged are multiple hurdles.”

When everyone tells you that you’re wrong about something you can either choose to believe that there might be something to what they say or you can stubbornly believe that they’re all wrong and you, and you alone, are right.  Which response is most likely to be the correct one?  If your name is Einstein, you may be justified in believing that you, and you alone, are correct.  If, however, your name is anyone else, you might want to pause and reconsider when everyone tells you that you’re wrong.  On top of that, if you’ve been through this exercise a dozen times and you’ve been wrong every single time, it’s just the definition of insanity to continue to believe that you’re right and everyone else is wrong.

The Navy continues to ignore GAO, Congressional Research Service, DOT&E, and ComNavOps, among others, preferring to believe that they know better.  Sadly, history does not support their belief and this is just the latest example.

That the Ford has problems is not a concern.  That the Navy continues to exhibit a pattern of stupidity is a concern.


  1. As I recall, the September GAO report chronicled these same reliability issues in detail that DOT&E now cites. Maybe when the Navy goes to sail the Gerald R. Ford and finds that nothing works, at least consistently, it will finally start listening to these critics and less to those inside WNY, the Pentagon, and Newport News who are incentivized to be unrealistically optimistic and consequently keep their heads buried in the sand. It's shameful.

  2. First, lets get one thing straight, the problems with the develop strategy on the Ford occurred long before the problem occurred with LCS. In fact the LCS's development strategy first had would have been closer to what you desire for CVN-78. After all that plan called for three successive ships before the final design. It was the bean counters that cut the CVN development from two carriers before final design, to a go for broke single prototype.

    Properly speaking, the Ford should have been built with only half the developmental changes been installed. For example, she really needed only two EMAL and electric arresting system. They radar suit could include a back up SPS-48, and similar standard radars in addition to the experimental SPY-3/4 units. This would be followed by the new JFK with the un necessary duplicate system remove and replaced. final by the new Enterprise totally dependent on the new system

  3. Just my opinion here, but I think that if we slow down the rate of construction of CVN's too much, we will lose the shipbuilding skills it takes to build these warships.

    The shipbuilding industrial base is fragile enough these days that keeping the industrial base busy may be a more important near-term objective than whether or not the latest and greatest advanced technology works the first time around, or even whether a newly constructed CVN must remain idle for some time while its issues are worked on.

    For all us 'casual observers' it would be useful to know what the specific failure points are in the launch system and in the arresting system.

    For EMALS, if the failure points are in the tracks or the stator, the fixes are probably technologically straightforward, if painful and time consuming to execute. If the issues are in the EMALS energy storage and delivery system, it is probably going to be a very rough ride to IOC for the Ford Class.

  4. Sounds like DoD isn't too thrilled about LCS...seems like it was the only major program that didn't fare well at the budget troth.


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