NavWeek: Cast of Carriers

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During a recent interview Rear Adm. Thomas Moore, U.S. Navy program executive officer for aircraft carriers, made some interesting comments.

Defending the nearly $13 billion price tag to build the nation’s newest carrier – CVN-78, the Gerald R. Ford – and the $3.8 billion for the CVN-71 USS Theodore Roosevelt refueling & complex overhaul (RCOH) work, Moore said the costs are worth it. Carriers, he says, are being relied on more than ever. “We are a carrier nation,” he says. “We are a carrier Navy.”

He’s right.

Despite all of the hoopla and resources being directed at undersea, littoral and similar operations, when it comes to naval forces, the U.S. still loves its carrier fleet, relishing such catchphrases as “90,000 tons of diplomacy.”

A couple of years ago, it did look like the country was ready to cool it with carriers for a bit. Instead, Congress, the Pentagon and the Navy made carrier funding a priority, despite continuing resolutions, sequestration and expected conditions of “fiscal austerity” with no end in sight.

Moore acknowledges the Ford funding profile has been anything but pretty, but he contends most of the major technology issues are behind the ship now and he’s ready to tackle the contract for the next ship in the class, CVN-79, the John F. Kennedy.

Others, however, paint a murkier picture of the program. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the Pentagon should delay contract awards for CVN-79 because of programmatic “shortfalls.”

GAO reports, “The Navy faces technical, design, and construction challenges to completing Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) that have led to significant cost increases and reduced the likelihood that a fully functional ship will be delivered on time. The Navy has achieved mixed progress to date developing CVN-78’s critical technologies, such as a system intended to more effectively launch aircraft from the ship. In an effort to meet required installation dates aboard CVN-78, the Navy has elected to produce some of these systems prior to demonstrating their maturity—a strategy that GAO’s previous work has shown introduces risk of late and costly design changes and rework, and leaves little margin to incorporate additional weight growth in the ship.”

Moore says the Navy has learned its lessons on the Ford class with the development of CVN-78 – and it’s working to develop better shipbuilding procedures to cut costs even more for CVN-79

Navy officials say they look “forward to continuing a productive dialogue with GAO and Congress – it is key in maintaining a successful acquisition program to bring this new class of aircraft carriers to the fleet.”

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