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Launch of Navy's newest aircraft carrier delayed

May. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The bow of the future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) was mounted on the ship in early April. The ship will remain in the drydock in which it was built until November.
The bow of the future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) was mounted on the ship in early April. The ship will remain in the drydock in which it was built until November. (Newport News Shipbuilding)
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WASHINGTON — The launch of the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford has been moved back from July to November, a consequence of production delays identified two years ago.

The move comes weeks after the Navy and shipbuilder Newport News Shipbuilding moved the ship’s delivery from September 2015 — which has been the contracted date for some years — to early 2016.

“We've been tracking and reporting schedule risk for several years and actively working to retire that risk,” Chris Johnson, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) said May 7 in an email. “Following a detailed review of the schedule in February 2013, the Navy and the shipbuilder concluded that a delay in the launch would allow the shipbuilder to complete the remaining critical path work and allow for increased outfitting to most economically complete the ship.”

Earlier, Johnson acknowledged the problems associated with the first ship of a new design.

“Certainly it’s not ideal, but in this case it is very much a first-of-class issue. And those ships have challenges.”

The Ford is the first of the CVN 78-class carriers, the first newcarrier design since the mid-1960s. The 100,000-ton ships — the largest warships in the world — are also the first to be entirely designed using computer-aided design technologies.

Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, is the only shipbuilder in the world capable of building full-sized nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

The shipbuilder, in a statement released Monday, acknowledged its problems in making up the schedule delays. HII’s statement in full:

“Working closely with the Navy, we have revised the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) launch date from July 2013 to November 2013. Although actions to resolve first-of-class issues have retired significant schedule risks, the revised launch date allows increased outfitting and ship construction that are most economically done prior to ship launch.

“As the first new design carrier beginning construction in more than 40 years, CVN 78 is designed to provide increased capability and reduced total ownership cost by about $4 billion compared to Nimitz-class carriers. For this first-of-class ship, construction commenced in parallel with design completion based on earlier decisions at [the] Department of Defense. Ongoing design during the construction process caused delay and inefficiencies in procurement, manufacturing, and assembly.

“We have demonstrated that delaying launch (and therefore delivery) to allow for increased outfitting and construction prior to launch is the most economical path forward to deliver the tremendous capability and affordability improvements resident in Ford. “

NAVSEA also released a statement on the shift in launch date:

“The CVN 78 launch date will be revised from July 2013 to November 2013, and delivery will be shifted to second quarter FY 2016. Although shipbuilder actions to resolve first-of-class issues have retired significant schedule risks to launch and stabilized schedule performance, they have not been able to overcome the 17 weeks of schedule pressure identified two years ago.

“The Navy and the shipbuilder concluded last month that a delay in the launch would allow the shipbuilder to complete the remaining critical path work and allow for increased outfitting to most economically complete the ship. The ship is expected to be 70 percent complete at launch, well prepared for subsequent shipboard testing.

“Ongoing design and new technology development during the construction process caused delays in material procurement, manufacturing and assembly.

“First-of-class producibility issues [that impacted the schedule included] the use of thinner steels which caused difficulties with structural erection; new processes for advanced coating systems; and qualification of new material components. The shipbuilder recommended a delay in launch in order to accomplish greater completion levels prior to launch and thereby enable the lead ship to be completed most economically. The Navy agreed.

“As reported by the Navy previously in its December 2011 CVN 78 Selected Acquisition Report, the Navy projects a most likely total ship end cost of $12.887 billion. This includes the cost of construction, government furnished equipment, and design funding of $3.3 billion for non-recurring engineering which is the investment in the 11 ship class design (not just the lead ship of the class, CVN 78). Current shipyard construction cost estimates are consistent with this Navy estimate from 2 years ago.”

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