WASHINGTON — First-in-class aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford will be ready for a deployment this fall and Navy officials say it will have all the spare parts it needs, after the Navy had to cannibalize parts from sister ship John F. Kennedy as recently as last fall.
Ford began a maintenance period in August following full-ship shock trials, or a series of explosions in the water near the carrier. The maintenance period will repair the minor damage done to the ship during the shock trials, as well as allow for any remaining system installation or upgrades ahead of a planned deployment by this fall, Program Executive Officer for Aircraft Carriers Rear Adm. Jim Downey told reporters late last week.
When the maintenance availability began, however, the Navy and shipbuilder Newport News Shipbuilding had to take some parts slated for in-construction JFK to make Ford whole, as there weren’t sufficient parts in the supply system.
Cannibalized parts included “HMI screens for stores elevators as well as motor controllers, power supplies, small pumps, limit switches and valve actuators for various systems throughout the ship,” Navy spokesman Capt. Clay Doss told Navy Times in November. “It occurred only after confirming the parts or materials were not available in the supply system and/or that alternate sources were not available.”
Asked if that issue had been resolved ahead of Ford’s deployment — when it will need to bring some critical spare parts onboard and have others forward-located in the regions where it operates — Downey said the problem has been fully resolved.
He said it’s normal to have parts issues with a new first-in-class ship. Some systems don’t hold up as well as the engineering suggested they would, while others have a learning curve for the crew.
The rear admiral said the Navy is ordering more parts from vendors. The service also brought subject matter experts from Newport News Shipbuilding and from individual system vendors onboard the ship at sea and at the pier to assess the parts that were having issues and discuss any system swap-outs or procurement adjustments.
The Navy in January 2019 awarded a two-carrier contract, which Downey said helped get parts flowing in from vendors — which can be used now to support Ford or saved for the construction of carriers Enterprise and Doris Miller.
Jay Stefany, performing the duties of assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said during the same media call that as vendors have accelerated their deliveries of parts, “the backfill of the parts that were taken from JFK, those are starting to come in, so we don’t see that it’s going to have any future impacts on JFK.”
Downey added that JFK is planned to deliver in 2024, and there aren’t any issues that appear to threaten that date.
He also said that there are no sustainment-related milestones left for Ford to complete before it can deploy because all the logistics and maintenance certifications were made during post-delivery test and trials at sea in 2020 and 2021. The Navy will need to continue to place orders for perishable items — the items replaced during routine maintenance conducted by the ship crew — but all the “sustainment items,” or required spare parts, are already on the ship, he said.
Downey added that the COVID-19 pandemic has had some ramifications across the board — transportation delays, for example, may slightly delay the arrival of parts at Newport News Shipbuilding, and some of the small businesses in the supply chain may be slowed if too many employees are out sick or home quarantining. But he said there were no supply chain impacts large enough to hinder the Ford deployment or the on-time construction of the rest of the ships in the class.
During the call, Downey said last summer’s shock trials went well and Ford only needed 20% of the repair work afterwards that Nimitz-class carrier Theodore Roosevelt did following its 1987 shock trials. Of the work required, 85% of it can be done by the ship’s crew rather than at Newport News Shipbuilding.
No tanks or ship structures were damaged, Downey said, and the bulk of the to-do list includes things like rehanging or fastening items on the walls like mirrors and bulkheads. Some electronics systems were disrupted during the blasts, he acknowledged, but they were all reset and running again within single-digit minutes. He said this was an opportunity for the crew to understand how the systems work and how they could be reconfigured if actual battle damage were to occur.
Once the ship wraps up maintenance and conducts its subsequent sea trials, the carrier strike group leadership and the carrier air wing will move aboard for training throughout the spring and summer. Downey said a deployment to multiple theaters and alongside multiple allies would begin “by the fall.”
The second ship in the class, JFK, is 85% complete ahead of its 2024 delivery date. Already 1,300 sailors are aboard the ship, with full crew move-aboard planned for next year, he said.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.