Thursday, September 5, 2019

Ford Trials and Propulsion Problems

The new carrier Ford has suffered more than its share of problems due to normal shakedown issues plus the stupidity of concurrency.  Well known problems include,

  • Weapon elevators
  • Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG)
  • Nuclear propulsion / main turbines
  • Dual Band Radar

Most of the problems have been well documented and thoroughly discussed but the propulsion problems are far less understood and far less public so let’s take a closer look at the propulsion problems.

Ford is currently undergoing Post Shakedown Availability (PSA) to correct the various problems identified in trials and sea periods.  However, the PSA completion date has been repeatedly extended due in large part to the elevators and propulsion problems.

Problems with the propulsion system are less understood publicly. The problem isn’t resident in the two nuclear reactors aboard but rather the ship’s main turbines generators that are driven by the steam the reactors produce.

… two [of four] of the main turbine generators needed unanticipated and extensive overhauls. As Geurts [Navy acquisition chief James Geurts] told Congress, the ship’s company discovered the problem during sea trials. (1)

The turbine generator repairs are likely related to earlier propulsion issues related to a recent design change which forced the ship to return to port in May 2018. (2)

Here’s a brief timeline of the propulsion problems and the various trials that the ship has undergone.

Jun 2016  Major turbine problems discovered

Apr 2017  Builder’s Trials

May 2017 Acceptance Trials

May 2017 Delivery

Jan 2019  Propulsion problem discovered

May 2019 Propulsion problem forced return to port

Note the ineffectiveness and pointlessness of the trials.  The Navy knew about the major turbine issues and yet accepted the ship anyway.  Subsequent trials failed to discover the additional propulsion problems.  I have one question: What’s the point of trials if we’re going to accept damaged ships anyway and if the trials don’t reveal problems that routine operating does?  Trials have become a joke.  Since they accomplish nothing, why not just do away with trials and save some money?

The first several LPD-17 ships were accepted with many thousands of hours of incomplete work.  The early LCS’es were accepted with incomplete compartments.  Zumwalt was accepted with none of its combat systems installed.  Ford was accepted with major systems inoperable and compartments incomplete (see, “PartialDelivery – Total Obfuscation” and “Navy To Accept And Commission Damaged Ship”).

Here’s a bit more background on some of the propulsion problems.

A transformer/voltage regulator problem caused main turbine generator failures in Jun 2016.

A serious voltage regulator problem on the carrier's four main turbine generators (MTGs) has prevented engineers from running the motors up to full power, and only now has the problem been identified and a fix decided upon.

The MTGs are a significant element in the ship's power generation system – an all-new layout supporting a plant developing at least three times the electrical power of previous carriers.

The problem manifested itself June 12 when a small electrical explosion took place on the No. 2 MTG during testing. Navy sources disagree whether the term "explosion" is appropriate, but two sources familiar with the situation used the reference, one noting that "it was enough of an explosion that debris got into the turbine." (5)

May 2019 propulsion system problem was found.

This second propulsion issue is unrelated to a previous one identified earlier this year. According to Navy Times, the current issues are related to mechanical failures which prevent steam produced in the ship’s nuclear plant from adequately spinning the ship’s 30-ton propellers. (3)

A propulsion system problem was found during a Jan 2019 at-sea period.  The problem may have been a bad bearing.

“During at-sea testing in January, the crew identified one component in the propulsion train was operating outside of design specifications and took action to place the propulsion train in a safe condition,” Bill Couch spokesman for Naval Sea System told Navy Times. (4)

As we’ve seen with the waivers of certifications in the Pacific fleet and the complete lack of enforcement of construction standards, the Navy has totally abandoned any pretense of standards.  This is simply unacceptable.  Navy leadership should be fired en masse.  As they’re so fond of declaring, I have lost confidence in their ability to command.


(1)USNI News website, “USS Gerald Ford Delivery Delayed Due to Extensive Nuclear Propulsion, Weapons Elevator Repairs; Carrier Won’t be Ready Until October”, Sam LaGrone, 26-Mar-2019,

(2)Navaltoday website, “Nuclear propulsion system repairs delay USS Gerald R. Ford’s return to fleet”,

(3)Navaltoday website, “USS Gerald R Ford returns to port with propulsion issues”,

(4)Navy Times website, “Why the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier was forced back into port”, Mark Faram, 22-May-2018,

(5)Defense News website, “Carrier Ford Has Serious Power Problem”, Christopher Cavas, 18-Sep-2016,


  1. SecNav told the President to fire him if the elevators were not fixed. Well he is still there along with all of the senior Admirals and SESs at NavSea.

    The smartest guy in the last century said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

    If we do not hold the leaders accountable, for repeatedly trying concurrency, accepting subpar ships, etc., why expect anything different in each and every ship class?

    1. It was even more specific
      "Though the Navy already said the elevators would be addressed during this PSA period, the stakes are now higher: Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer told President Donald Trump that the elevators would be installed and working by the time the carrier returns to sea, or else the president can use his famous “you’re fired” line on the service secretary."
      I presume the carrier has returned to sea this summer for further shakedown testing...or has that been delayed too

    2. The famous "you're fired" line should be used on everybody who signed off on any part of this disaster. And we should stop work on the second and third of the class until either 1) the first one works, or 2) we figure out how to turn them into Nimitzes.

  2. So we bought a CVN(P), ok a 13bn$ test monkey.
    Why exactly are building more of them ?
    The Zoomies, know enough to build service test models, then build the real ones.

    Maybe CNO should go on Fox & Friends to inform the POTUS.

    1. Zoomies tested F-35's while already building them.

    2. The Zoomies are still testing and "fixing" the F-35...


    "....Almost two years after the U.S. Navy’s costliest warship was first hobbled by manufacturing defects with its propulsion system, the two companies at the center of the breakdown are haggling over who will have to pay back taxpayers for fixing the problem.

    Aircraft carrier-builder Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. and subcontractor General Electric Co. are in talks over who will pay the Navy for fixes it made on the propulsion system of the troubled $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford. The service last month declared the system finally fixed, though the carrier still has a number of other shortfalls.

    Those talks are sensitive enough that the Navy won’t comment publicly on how much taxpayers have spent so far fixing the issue. “Publishing interim cost information could jeopardize the pending negotiations,” Captain Danny Hernandez, a Navy spokesman, said in an email, declining to comment further.

    The dispute over repayment “demonstrates the importance of the Navy evaluating options for warranties in its shipbuilding contracts to better protect itself and the taxpayer,” said Shelby Oakley, a Government Accountability Office director who monitors Navy shipbuilding programs, said in an email."

    It would appear that the bearing failure has been "fixed", the dispute now is on who's going to pay. Article doesn't mention the other propulsion failures or if they have been fixed. Maybe USN trying to sweep those problems under the rug?

  4. Somewhat related, looks like USN will eventually have 1 dry dock on each coast for FORD class!!! Hope we never have to work on 2 of them at the same time.....

    1. Maybe. Funding constantly gets reprogrammed. For example, the recent reallocation of funds for various maintenance and facility type programs into the border wall.

      The point is that drydocks are demonstrably very low on Navy leadership's priority list so the odds that the proposed funding will be reallocated are very high.

  5. All of this seems to be a repeat of the past.

    During the time between the world wars, the naval shipbuilding industry was suspected, and later caught, in price-fixing schemes.

    Congress' answer was the Dallinger Amendment to the 1929 Naval Authorization Act.
    The intent of this amendment was to push a significant percentage of new naval construction into actual navy yards (like the Brooklyn of Philadelphia navy yards) as a measuring stick against which the efficiency of the private yards could be compared.

    Obviously having organizations internal to the navy like BuShips is integral to making this type of in-house construction possible.

    I was shocked and dismayed that BuShips (or a modern equivalent) no longer existed.

    No wonder the procurement of navy ships is such a mess.

    The navy needs to get this process back under control.

    They are currently wasting enormous amounts of money and crippling the nation's defense readiness.

    It makes me angry.

  6. What is the point of building weapons so expensive and precious they cannot be put in harms way?

    All weapon systems are ultimately 'consumable items', they will be lost in battle, they will be destroyed.

    The US could have had four QE class carriers for the price of one Ford, with enough left over for a tank of 'gas'.

    Even with a cats and traps fitted they would still be reasonably priced.

    However the days of cats and traps are over, the RN has always been at the forefront of carrier inovation, while the US was still designing carriers for prop aircraft the RN was designing carriers for the jet age. Hence the angled flight deck, steam catapult and mirror landing system, all adopted by the USN. Later the ski-ramp and the rolling landing F35B, the innovation continues.

    The RN carrier is the future the USN carrier yesterday. The question ship designers must ask themselves is 'are we willing to lose it'? The answer must always be 'yes'.

    1. "The US could have had four QE class carriers for the price of one Ford"

      And yet that single Ford would be more capable than four QE's because the Ford has a full air wing with E-2 Hawkeye AEW (not some cobbled together helo with a small, limited radar), aerial tankers capable of fast, tactically relevant, long range tanking as well as overhead, and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft that can accompany strikes.

      Without the AEW, tanking, and EW, the air wing is only marginally effective and only in limited, low end threat scenarios.

      Further, the F-35B model is limited in practical payload on non-cat-assisted takeoffs and has no bring-back capacity, as far as I know. Range is also limited compared to the -C model.

      The QE class is, apparently, also air wing size limited to a max of 35-40 aircraft, depending on source. This is simply too small to be combat effective in a peer war. Unless one is willing to leave the carrier defenseless, a dozen or two aircraft would have to be retained for defense which leaves few for a strike.

      The problem the QE class faces is that even if they bought/developed a Hawkeye or equivalent, they can't operate it due to the lack of cat and trap.

      Combined with the lack of aerial tanking and EW, any strike would be short range, unsupported, and have no aerial command and control.

      The QE's are a nice peacetime or low threat vessel but are unsuited for peer war. They could combine with a US carrier group and offer some degree of assistance but not much - possible group defense while the US carriers conduct strikes?

      Before you launch into a misguided rebuttal, consider why the Chinese are bent on developing Nimitz/Ford clones rather than QE's, if the QE's are so superior?

    2. While I agree that the runaway costs, tech failures, and ships too expensive to risk are problematic, smaller carriers arent the answer. Ski jumps are the fix for not building a full sized carrier, and dont belong in US naval aviation. The "carriers are vulnerable" hype aside, whats needed isnt to reinvent the wheel. Thinking that a QE or some new carrier design is the solution because of massive cost is disingenious. A Nimitz-class restart is a common sense answerto the Ford debacle, not a smaller, less capable design. . Certainly reinstituting BuShips is a good step in the right direction, but only if you can get the right people, with the proper authority in it, rather than creating another rubber stamp organization to the current mess.... The Admiralty and the design/procurement system in the US is broken, and is what needs a top to bottom redesign.

    3. "What is the point of building weapons so expensive and precious they cannot be put in harms way?"

      The alternate, paired question is, what is the point of building a carrier so limited in capability that it can't be put in harm's way?

    4. "The QE's are a nice peacetime or low threat vessel but are unsuited for peer war. They could combine with a US carrier group and offer some degree of assistance but not much - possible group defense while the US carriers conduct strikes?"

      That's pretty much what CSBA suggested in their Navy Future Force Assessment a few years back (2015, IIRC). The argument was that you would need a small carrier of some 20~ F-35Bs providing air defense to the carrier, while the carrier's F-35Cs, Super Hornets, and potentially MQ-25s would be used on strike missions. CSBA's argument was that the payload and range limitation of operating STOVL fighters off LHDs are mitigated by the relatively short ranges and lighter air to air payloads in BARCAP missions.

  7. EMALS is the real issue. Note that no aircraft have been launched for over 14 months and the Ford deployment date is now sometime in 2022.

    The DOTE's 2018 year-end summary:


    • Testing to date involved 747 shipboard launches and demonstrated EMALS capability to launch aircraft planned for the CVN 78 Air Wing.

    • Through the first 747 shipboard launches, EMALS suffered 10 critical failures. This is well below the requirement of 4,166 Mean Cycles Between Critical Failures, where a cycle represents the launch of one aircraft.

    • The reliability concerns are exacerbated by the fact that the crew cannot readily electrically isolate EMALS components during flight operations due to the shared nature of the Energy Storage Groups and Power Conversion Subsystem inverters onboard CVN 78. The process for electrically isolating equipment is time-consuming; spinning down the EMALS motor/generators takes 1.5 hours by itself. The inability to readily electrically isolate equipment precludes EMALS maintenance during flight operations.


    In 2017 the ship's captain proclaimed this has been resolved but the same news report noted doublespeak: "The fix is a software upgrade for the EMALS what won’t be installed until 2019, during the ship’s post-shakedown availability.

    In summary, EMALS began in 1995:

    And despite horrid performance in early 2018, we are told all has been fixed with a software upgrade. No aircraft have been launched for 14 months.

    What is your confidence level in the assertion by Navy Admirals that EMALS has been fixed?

    1. "What is your confidence level in the assertion by Navy Admirals that EMALS has been fixed?"


  8. The USN is doing the job the Congress has allocated to it: funnelling taxpayer's money to corporations. Really, what's so hard about this concept?

    Yes, it's a complete dereliction of the legally-mandated duties of the Congress and the Navy, but both organisations are sure that the US remains militarily supreme and can't be defeated, and the media (and thus the public) can easily be kept distracted. So the politicians carry on getting their campaign contributions and the Navy officers get their promotions, and nobody rocks the boat.

    To change this, you need a President who is actually interested in defence and willing to believe how bad things have got.

  9. I'm just doing a quick Wiki search so dates might be a bit off:

    USS Enterprise CVN-65:
    1958: keel laid
    Sept 1960: launched
    Nov 1961: commissioned
    Jan 1962: 3 month shake down cruise
    Oct 1962: Participates in Cuban crisis blockade!
    1963-1964: deploys on it's 2nd and 3rd deployment.
    Dec 1965: First strike against a target in Vietnam.
    (I can't believe they built her or deployed so fast so maybe I'm wrong! Stunning compared to today.)

    USS FORD CVN-78:
    Aug 2005: ceremonial weld
    2007: big components are assembled
    Nov 2009: keel laying
    Oct 2013: launched
    July 2017 commissioned (LOL!)
    2019/2020: Post shakedown availability cruise?
    2021-2022: 1st deployment?

    I used Enterprise to compare to Ford since they are both really prototypes compared to a real series production CV - CVN. I guess Enterprise was at least as much a step forward compared to conventional CVs than Ford is to old Nimitz series, Im sure when Enterprise was built and put into service, they had problems and systems that were new and untried. Well, even if you assume Enterprise during Cuban Crisis wasn't quite operational, you still can see that from keel laying to Vietnam took about 7 - 8 years. Personally, that's fast and quite an achievement. Compare to Ford, where keel laying was in 2009 (with almost 4 years of prep work before!) to maybe a deployment in 2021 and that's being generous, we are looking at 12 years. I'm trying my best to make Ford look good with the dates, that's still a lot of time and even assuming a deployment in 2021 (late to maybe early 2022?), will she really be as battle ready as Enterprise was in 1963/64/65? I doubt it, only 2 elevators are working and it's been said that NONE OF ELEVATORS reach the top deck...if true, how are you going to arm the fighters? Arm them below deck first and bring them up armed? Will EMALS be really debugged? How about arresting gear? Ford still hasn't been used and abused, run hard to see what works and what breaks, USN is still trying to get stuff to work when she's been barely driven! This is way too much time and money for the end result. No weapon system should take that long, realistically, USN is probably looking at 15 years before Ford is used in anger....

  10. The QE class is, apparently, also air wing size limited to a max of 35-40 aircraft, depending on source.....
    The QE carriers can surge to 70 aircraft if required according to Captain Kydd - QE (almost as good as James Kirk - Zumwalt)

    The QE's are a nice peacetime or low threat vessel but are unsuited for peer war.......
    Don't regard the current items as the finished article, martlett cassette (see Janes) will be incorporated alongside the 30mm cannon - more cunning RN innovation. The best air defence destroyers in the world will provide air defence. The best ASW Frigates in the world will provide sub surface defence.

    the F-35B model is limited in practical payload on non-cat-assisted takeoffs and has no bring-back capacity, as far as I know..........
    That is the purpose of the rolling landing - increases 'bringback' load to 7000 lbs

    Ski jumps are the fix for not building a full sized carrier.....
    Catapults are a fix for aircraft that have no short take-off capability. And as for arrested landing... a controlled crash that fatigues the airframe.

    Growlers...? Isnt that the whole reason for being of the F35? They provide their own forward ECM and suppression.

    AEW is a concept from the seventies when it wasn't feasible even then to overfly the warzone.
    The best we can hope for is to patrol the perimeter of the warzone looking in from the side - we will use the wedgetail.

    Tanking - the Europeans have had the excellent A330 MRT for over a decade, so could the US if their procurement processes were not corrupt, good luck with that KC 46 thingy, that doesnt work either.

    The whole US defence procurement process is corrupt. As a European you have my sympathy.

    1. "The QE carriers can surge to 70 aircraft"

      The was a single, unsubstantiated statement by a program shill, early in the development. There is nothing to indicate the statement is true and every subsequent evaluation cites 35-40 aircraft as the max. Find me any authoritative source that cites 70 aircraft. If not, the 35-40 max statement stands.

      "best air defence destroyers"

      Setting aside your heavily biased evaluation of the UK escorts, escorts don't make the carrier a viable contributor to peer warfare - the air wing does that and the air wing is too small and lacks any supporting aircraft.

      "rolling landing"

      I'm aware of the technique but I've never seen any spec on bringback weight for it. Give me a source.

      "Catapults are a fix for aircraft that have no short take-off capability. And as for arrested landing... a controlled crash that fatigues the airframe."

      Ski jumps limit take off loads. Period. It's a workaround for navies that can't afford cats. End of story. Arrested landings have no impact on aircraft lifespan. Aircraft lifespan is determined by cumulative g-forces, max g-forces, wing fatigue, and design life.

      "F35? They provide their own forward ECM and suppression."

      How big a drink of the Kool-Aid did you have? The F-35 is NOT a functional equivalent of the Growler. If it was, the Navy would be retiring the Growlers instantly to save money. You should read up on the comparative ECM features of the two aircraft. For example, the Growler carries high power, broadcast jamming pods. The F-35 has no such capability.

      " KC 46 thingy"

      That is not what the Navy uses for tanking. The Navy uses F-18s and is in the process of fielding the MQ-25 Stingray. Those aircraft provide both strike and overhead refueling. Without tactical refueling, strikes are very limited in range - to the point of useless in a peer war.

      While I understand you desire to 'defend' the QE as a matter of pride, the reality is that it's a second rate, low threat level asset and is not suited for peer war. In a peer war, it would be fully occupied merely defending itself and would likely fail due to the lack of AEW and ECM support aircraft. As I said, it might be able to contribute to a US carrier group in a very limited way but that would be the extent of it.

      While it may offend your pride, try to be objective about the QE. The reality is that it wasn't designed for peer war. It was designed for 'peacetime' threats.

    2. I agree that our procurement system is broken. Absolutely. We have a wasteful and misguided process that needs an overhaul. But again, to compare the QE to a American nuclear carrier is apples and oranges at best!!

      "The QE carriers can surge to 70 aircraft if required..." This is equivalent to a regular everyday CVN complement, and decades ago that airwing size was nearer 100 aircraft, and on a war footing probably would be again. Considering that the QE standard wing is stated at 24 with a max of 40, theres quite a capability difference.

      "Catapults are a fix for aircraft that have no short take-off capability. And as for arrested landing... a controlled crash that fatigues the airframe"
      To suggest that a fighter or attack aircraft that is VTOL or STOL is superior to a cat-launched aircraft is ridiculous. The extra weight/equipment/maintenance and the degraded range and further tanking requirements make them a distant second best. I wont debate that they do have their uses, but use as frontline naval aviation is a poor choice, made only when you cant afford a full sized carrier with CATOBAR. To think that CATOBAR is dead or outdated is ridiculous, and its just sniping at a superior system because it couldnt be implemented on the QE. As far as airframe stress due to arrested landings, sure, its a tough environment, but theyre designed for it. I dont recall seeing any naval aviation assets having significantly shorter lifespans,or desert junkyards full of damaged airframes, so its clearly a non-issue.
      When you compare the flexibility and capabilities of a CVN with a QE, and take into account the range, dependence on at sea replenishment for the QE and especially its escorts, add in the significantly smaller and shorter legged airwing, couple it with a lack of tanking and AEW capability, you find a huge gap in capability. To expect a QE to be a blue water capable offensive platform is optimistic. So while I truly applaud the resurgence of the Royal Navy and am glad to see them rebuilding their capabilities, the QE and American ships are built with clearly different uses, philosophies, and budgets. To compare them or suggest that the QE is superior, and a proper replacement for CVNs is disingenious, or misinformed, misguided flag-waving.

  11. I agree, if you compare a QE to a Nimitz the CVN will win every time. However I think a more pertinent comparison is cost.

    We built two for £6.2 Bn, or approx $10 Bn, so $5 Bn each. That price was well over what is could have been because the UK government decided to slow production so that the cost went into later financial years. I have read they could have been done for 2/3 rds of that cost.

    Now as already stated the Ford has cats and traps which the QE has not and is nuclear powered, which should proportionally cost more to build. Also the QE by displacement is only 2/3 of the size of the Ford.

    However if you say cost of a Ford is $12 Bn plus $4 Bn development cost = £$28 Bn for two, compared to $10 (over inflated) for 2 QE, the US is not getting good value for money even if it was working perfectly.

    1. " US is not getting good value for money"

      No argument there!

      "However I think a more pertinent comparison is cost."

      No. Cost is never a primary factor in combat systems. It's a secondary, though important, consideration. We don't (or shouldn't) design combat systems to cost. Combat systems should be designed to combat effectiveness. Cost is a secondary modifier.

      Also, comparing numbers (2 QE for the cost of 1 Ford, for example) is irrelevant. Again, the only valid comparison is combat effectiveness. In the case of the QE, even two QEs don't remotely equal one Ford/Nimitz due to the QE's lack of support aircraft, as we've noted.

  12. Not arguing with your main point, I was just pointing out the difference in cost of 2 QE's against 2 Ford's (I added 2nd cost without development costs). They were both large engineering projects by incompetent Governments, and yes the extra capabilities (eg cats) will proportional cost more, but even so the Ford costs are exorbitant. For that money you should easily got the whole carrier group.

    1. "even so the Ford costs are exorbitant."

      Again, no argument!


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