Washington — The U.S. Navy's newest aircraft carrier, a multibillion-dollar behemoth that is the first in a next generation of carriers, is beset with performance problems, even failing tests of its ability to launch and recover combat jets, according to an internal assessment by the Pentagon obtained by the Boston Globe. The Globe reported Friday that early tests are raising worries that the USS Gerald R. Ford, christened in November, may not meet the Navy's goal of significantly increasing the number of warplanes it can quickly launch — and could even be less effective than older vessels. The carrier is undergoing testing at a Virginia shipyard and is scheduled for delivery in 2016, with a price tag estimated at more than $12 billion. At least four crucial components being installed are at risk because of their poor or unknown reliability, states the 30-page testing assessment, which was delivered last month to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other top Pentagon leaders.
In addition to the launching and landing systems for jet fighters, officials are also concerned about its advanced radar system. It also remains unclear if a key weapons elevator will work as promised. According to the authors, "Poor reliability of these critical systems could cause a cascading series of delays during flight operations that would affect [the ship's] ability to generate sorties, make the ship more vulnerable to attack, or create limitations during routine operations," the Globe reports. A number of other systems, such as communications gear, meanwhile, are performing at less than acceptable standards, according to the assessment by J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation. Gilmore concluded that the Navy has little choice but to redesign key components of the ship. Rear Adm. Thomas J. Moore, the program executive officer for aircraft carriers, defended the progress of the ship in an interview and expressed confidence that, in the two years before delivery, the Navy and its contractors will overcome what he acknowledged are multiple hurdles. "With these new technologies comes a lot of developmental challenges," Moore, an MIT-trained nuclear engineer, told the Globe. The ship has had its share of critics in the past. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found last year that costs had risen 22 percent from original predictions, and recommended delaying construction of a second, the USS John F. Kennedy, until the Navy and its contractors have a better handle on a series of untried technologies. A third vessel in the new ship class, the USS Enterprise, is in the works, and the Navy could buy up to eight more.