The Trillion Dollar Crap Shoot (Part Two)

by John Delach

Congress authorized funds to build the lead ship for the next generation of nuclear powered super aircraft carriers in 2008. By then the concept of building a new class of weapons incorporating “leap ahead technology” had been fixed in stone in the Pentagon’s procurement philosophy and this baby was a natural for it. It was decided that the lead ship for this class, CVN-78 would be named for our Thirty-eighth president, the USS Gerald R. Ford.


“Ford was designed under Bush (43) and Rumsfeld. The carrier was packed with major cutting-edge technologies including an electromagnetic aircraft launching system, an advanced arresting gear, a powerful dual-band radar, a new nuclear propulsion and power distribution system and advanced defensive weapon systems. In all, the ship incorporated twenty-three distinct changes and up-grades from the ten existing Nimitz-class carriers.”


The last Nimitz, USS George H.W. Bush, CVN-77, was completed in 2009 at a cost of $6.2 billion. Although commissioned on January 10, 2009, Bush didn’t become operational until May 15, 2011.


Bush was a direct descendant of the USS Forrestal, CVA-59 our first super carrier completed in 1956. Like the Forrestal, Bush’s technology included the angle deck and steam catapults both invented by the British. By the Rumsfeld era the problems associated with steam catapults were well documented. Steam was corrosive and required continual maintenance. The hydraulic landing system that controlled the arresting cables was also considered obsolete for future carrier operations.


Rummy and co decided that this class would have great leap forward technology so Ford and two planned sisters, CVN-79, U.S.S. John F. Kennedy and CVN 80, U.S.S. Enterprise incorporated these new toys. Thought was also given to retrofitting later models of the Nimitz class with these systems. Fortunately, this insanity was quietly abandoned once the cost became known.


Ford was authorized on September 10, 2008 in the waning days of 43’s administration with a price tag of $7.9 billion and an estimated completion date of 2015. Neither the actual price tag nor the delivery date came in anywhere near those estimates. Self-imposed budget restrictions were part of the reason but the real culprits were those “what if” systems particularly the new catapults the new power plant and the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG).


These systems remained in development as construction of the hull at Newport News Shipbuilding (now Huntington Ingalls) progressed but timing slipped and costs soared as it became obvious that they didn’t work as intended. Ford wasn’t commissioned until July 22, 2017 at a staggering cost of $13 billion. But before you begin to shake your head in disgust, understand the ship will not be able to enter service until 2020 or 2021 and will cost an additional $780 million to be made operational.


This additional time is needed to get these damn systems to work properly. Current estimated cost for the launch system is at $961 million or three times the original price and still can’t be used to launch aircraft equipped with external fuel tanks needed for long-range missions. I kid you not, this is scary stupid.


The turbines have failed to produce the amount of electrical power the ship requires and the AAG does not perform up to specifications either.


Fixes are in the works but may affect the timetables for the Kennedy and Enterprise if corrections and solutions are not made sooner rather than later. Bryan Clark, a naval analysis noted:


“The navy is paying the price for attempting to incorporate too many new technologies at once. The Ford is an example of how short-lived strategic themes such as ‘transformation’ can create long-term problems. This is not a history we want to repeat.”


Ex-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus noted: “The Ford is a textbook example of how not to build a ship… (We were) building it while it’s still being designed…which results in costly do-overs of already finished components and trying to force unproven technology on it.”


Congratulations Rummy, you took three throws at the dice table, the Zumwalt destroyers, the

F-35 Lightning II and the Ford and you rolled craps each time.


During the second Iraq war Rumsfeld ended a press conference with an old service remark: “Good enough for government work.” These debacles don’t even qualify for that excuse.