Navy Leader Denies the Service Is Blaming Shipbuilder for Carrier Ford’s Many Problems

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An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Jamie “Coach” Struck, performs an arrested landing aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) July 28, 2017. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elizabeth A. Thompson)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Jamie “Coach” Struck, performs an arrested landing aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) July 28, 2017. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elizabeth A. Thompson)

Days after the Navy secretary criticized a shipbuilder for ongoing problems with a new $13 billion aircraft carrier, his No. 2 acknowledged the service should be held accountable for decisions that contributed to the issues.

Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said Friday that the service should not have opted to put so many new technologies on the first Ford-class aircraft carrier, which has delayed the delivery of the ship and pushed it over budget.

"We as a Navy and the Department of Defense have a lot to be held accountable for with respect to certain decisions that were made to put in all those new technologies at once on that new platform," Modly said at the 2019 Military Reporters and Editors conference outside Washington. "And I think we're accepting responsibility."

Modly's comments follow strong criticism unleashed by Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer this week on Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), the Virginia-based shipbuilder that constructed the carrier Gerald R. Ford. Spencer at one point said HII had "no idea" what it was doing when it came to fixing ongoing problems with the carrier's new weapons elevators, which bring ammunition to the flight deck.

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Spencer told President Donald Trump earlier this year that the commander in chief could fire him if the problems weren't fixed. The Navy secretary said Wednesday that he made that deal to "rally" HII into getting the 11 weapons elevators on board functioning.

"I didn't think [they were] really focusing on it," Spencer told reporters in Washington this week. "... Then in the spring of this year, HII management says, 'Oops, it's going to be 2020. We really have no idea what we're doing.'"

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Modly denied that Navy leaders are on a mission to undermine the shipbuilder and blame it for the many problems that have delayed the Ford.

"I'm asking you guys to listen to what I have to say and the frustrations that we have with industry in this environment that we're in -- that we've put ourselves in," he said. "... There is a shared responsibility here between us and industry on this problem."

USNI News reported this week that the Ford may not be able to deploy until 2024, which is six years after initially planned. Spencer said four of the 11 weapons elevators had been certified as of Wednesday.

The Navy has also had problems with the carrier's dual-band radar, as well as catapults and arresting gear that launch and catch aircraft on the flight deck.

Beci Brenton, a Huntington Ingalls Industries spokeswoman, said earlier this week that it's important to consider that the new elevators, radar, and catapults and arresting gear were initially going to be spread out and added to the first three Ford-class carriers.

"That plan was changed in 2002 when a decision was made to install all of the new technology on the first ship," she said.

Some of the technologies, Brenton added, have been "more challenging than anticipated."

"This is to be expected on any first-in-class ship," she said. "We will continue to support our Navy partner in their preparations for the ship's deployment, and we're confident that Ford will bring great capability to the Navy and to our Nation for decades to come."

When naval reporter Chris Cavas pressed Modly on getting journalists out on the Ford while it's underway to see some of the problems facing the ship first-hand, the undersecretary pledged transparency.

"Go out there and report on it," Modly said. "... There is no point in us trying to block you guys from that."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Read more: 'A Failure of the Navy:' Next CNO Addresses Problems with New Carrier

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