USS George Washington Back to US Navy After Troubled Six-Year Refit

George Washington redelivery
George Washington was redelivered to the US Navy after a six-year overhaul (USN)

Published May 26, 2023 11:25 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington was officially handed back to the U.S. Navy yesterday, May 25, after an extended six-year overhaul that became a painful episode uncovering shortcomings in the Navy’s systems. The redelivery is nearly two years behind schedule after having lasted over 2,100 days and being linked to the suicide of nine sailors since 2017.

The aircraft carrier which had been frontline deployed from a home base in Japan between 2008 to 2015, entered its mid-life refueling and complex overhaul period (RCOH in the navy’s vernacular) officially on August 4, 2017, with a contract valued at $2.8 billion to Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. The Navy highlights that the mid-life process for the carriers not only includes the refueling of the two nuclear reactors but also incorporates upgrades to propulsion equipment, infrastructure, and combat systems. 

“This has been a challenging RCOH on many fronts, and the team executing the RCOH including the shipbuilder, GW crew, and many other suppliers and Navy commands teamed to redeliver this aircraft carrier during the pandemic by re-engineering our approach to working with suppliers and the shipyard and accelerating problem solving on the deck plates,” said Rear Adm. James P. Downey, Program Executive Office Aircraft Carriers, who oversaw recent years of the George Washington’s extended 69-month RCOH process. According to the Navy’s official statement, the process encountered “challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, supplier interruptions, and competing requirements for resources.”

According to the shipyard, the process involved upgrades to nearly every space and system on the ship. Tanks, the hull, shafting, propellers, rudders, piping, ventilation, electrical, combat and aviation support systems were repaired, upgraded and modernized. Work also included defueling and refueling the ship’s two nuclear reactors as well as repairs, maintenance, and upgrades to the propulsion plant. 

HHI cites a variety of reasons for the longer than anticipated timeline. In addition to the pandemic, they point to budget uncertainties, workforce delays, and the condition of the ship when she arrived at the yard. A survey showed more extensive issues. During the overhaul process, the Navy also decided to use parts from the Washington for other vessels in the Nimitz fleet adding to the list of materials that the yard needed to create for the carrier.


Return from the acceptance trials marked the end to a troubled overhaul that highlighted shortcomings in the process (HHI)


George Washington has gone through a transformation and now returns to the fleet as a fully recapitalized ship, ready to support any mission and serve our nation for another 25 years,” said Todd West, NNS vice president, in-service aircraft carrier programs. 

The Washington was finally ready for sea trials at the beginning of this week. She departed Newport News on May 22 for three days of trials. According to HHI, owners of Newport News Shipbuilding, the carrier’s systems and operations were tested during the time at sea. It included high-speed operations and put the ship through a series of tests designed to prove system performance and demonstrate all the carrier’s capabilities at sea. The acceptance trials concluded with the vessel’s return to port on May 25 and the official redelivery to the U.S. Navy.

“Getting our warship redelivered and back out to sea to take its place as the premier CVN in the world’s greatest Navy is a direct result of the tenacity and grit displayed by our warfighters,” said Capt. Brent Gaut, Washington‘s commanding officer. “To our incredible Sailors, contractors, and shipyard workers:  I am proud of you, and I sincerely hope you feel an extreme sense of pride as well, especially in light of our once-in-a-lifetime achievement.”

Because the Washington was in the shipyard for an extended period of time it meant that sailors could join the ship and spend their entire tour without ever going to sea. The Navy conducted a series of investigations after three sailors committed suicide in the course of a week and admitted that conditions aboard the vessel had been very difficult during the long refit. The reports outlined a long list of quality-of-life issues and recommendations both for conditions aboard the vessels during their extended shipyard stays as well as making more housing off-ship available.

The Navy reports that the George Washington is scheduled to return to U.S. 7th Fleet in 2024, replacing USS Ronald Reagan, which had relieved the George Washington in 2015. The Ronald Reagan is scheduled to relocate to Bremerton, Washington, where the ship will be receiving repairs and upgrades at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, after nearly a decade of service in the Western Pacific.