The new Ford-class supercarriers are being delivered to the US Navy without the ability to deploy with the service’s new stealth fighters, and lawmakers have decided to put a stop to it.
It’s very difficult to get something like an aircraft carrier cheaply and quickly and have it work well. In the case of the Ford-class carriers, the Navy program is facing cost overruns, delivery delays, and missing capabilities.
The Navy has been accepting unfinished aircraft carriers that are lacking critical capabilities, such as the ability to deploy with fifth-generation fighters.
The service has been planning to complete the necessary work after delivery to skirt the caps imposed by Congress to keep costs from soaring, USNI News reported this week. The workaround ultimately results in higher costs in the long run.
The House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee included in its Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act mark language a prohibition for the Navy to accept delivery of its next Ford-class carrier, John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), unless the carrier can deploy with F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters, a committee staff member said during a media briefing Monday.
“CVN-79 will not be able to deploy with F-35s when it’s delivered to the Navy as a direct result of that cost cap. So when that cost cap was imposed, the Navy traded that capability off and chose to build that back in on the back end,” the committee staffer said. “That’s unacceptable to our members that the newest carriers can’t deploy with the newest aircraft.”
The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), which should be delivered back to the fleet this fall, currently lacks the ability to deploy with F-35s, and the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), which is still in the works, will not be able to deploy with F-35s either, at least not upon initial delivery.
The “F-35C modifications for CVN-78 and CVN-79 are currently scheduled for a future post-delivery modernization maintenance period that will occur prior to the planned F-35C operations on those carriers,” Captain Daniel Hernandez, a spokesman for the Navy acquisitions chief, told Business Insider.
The two follow-on Ford-class carriers, CVN-80 and 81, “will be constructed with those modifications made during construction and will not require a post-delivery modification,” he further explained.
“I think it’s a good idea to drive the Navy to make the ship more complete when it’s delivered because that’s a problem that’s getting worse, not better,” Bryan Clark, a defense expert and former Navy officer, told Business Insider, explaining that Congress will need to provide financial relief as changes to the service’s current approach to aircraft carrier development will likely result in higher upfront costs.
Lawmakers have proposed amending the cost caps on the new supercarriers, a change the Navy welcomes.
The new legislative measures could address a serious problem for the Navy that truthfully extends well beyond the ability of its new carriers to carry F-35s.
The Ford class, in theory, represents a major improvement over the previous Nimitz-class supercarriers. The Navy so has ordered four Fords. Lead vessel Ford is supposed to deploy for the first time in 2022.
The Fords are bigger than the Nimitzs are, boast superior sensors and a more efficient deck layout and feature precise electromagnetic catapults rather than the maintenance-intensive steam catapults that the Nimitzs have.
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But the new flattops are expensive. It cost $5 billion just to design the class. Ford cost $13 billion to build. That’s roughly as much money at the Navy usually spends on new ships in an entire year.