Sen. Inhofe: Problems With USS Ford "Ought to be Criminal"

Inspection team aboard one of USS Ford's weapons elevators (USN)

Published Jul 31, 2019 7:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

During the confirmation hearing for the U.S. Navy's next top officer, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee appeared less concerned with the qualifications of the nominee than with the status of the Navy's new aircraft carrier, the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford. 

"The ship was accepted by the Navy incomplete, nearly two years late, two and a half billion dollars over budget, and nine out of eleven weapons elevators still don't work, with costs continuing to grow," said Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the committee's chairman, in his opening statement. "[The contract has] ballooned to more than $13 billion without understanding the technical risks, the costs or the schedules. You know, this ought to be criminal."

Sen. Inhofe suggested that while the Ford class is important to national security, the Navy and its contractors have to "do a better job" in getting it ready. 

"I first became exposed to this when I was down there on site [at the shipyard]," Inhofe said. "I sensed at that time that - that was a sole source [contract] down there - that there was a level of arrogance that it didn't make any difference if the elevators don't work. If you're carrying ordnance in elevators and they don't work, then it's not much good in the field."

The Navy's new nominee for the position of chief of naval operations, Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, said that he agreed with the senator's assessment. "It's still unacceptable," Gilday said. "We need all of the elevators working in order to give us the kind of redundancy and combat readiness that the American taxpayer has invested in that ship."

Ford's weapons elevators are electromagnetically actuated, unlike those aboard previous generations of aircraft carriers. Two in the upper stage are functioning and teams of USS Ford's sailors are undergoing a rigorous certification process to learn how to operate them. All nine on the lower stage are non-functional or awaiting installation. 

According to recent reporting by Bloomberg's Anthony Capaccio, the problem lies not just with the elevator mechanisms but with the steel work surrounding them. A Navy spokesman told Capaccio that the contractor is working to correct problems with “tight tolerances” and “physical structures adjustments” related to 70 elevator shaft doors and 17 hatches that are out of specification. The repair process requires cutting out installed steel and rewelding, vice chair of the House Seapower subcommittee Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) said.  

The work on the remaining nine elevators is not expected to be complete by October, when the Ford is scheduled to set sail. Her departure from the yard has already been pushed back by four months.