The previously undisclosed problem with a propulsion system bearing, which occurred in January but has yet to be remedied, comes as the Navy is poised to request approval from a supportive Congress to expedite a contract for a fourth carrier in what was to have been a three-ship class. It’s part of a push to expand the Navy’s 284-ship fleet to 355 as soon as the mid-2030s.
It was the second failure in less than a year with a “main thrust bearing” that’s part of the $12.9 billion carrier’s propulsion system. The first occurred in April 2017, during sea trials a month before the vessel’s delivery. The ship, built by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., has been sailing in a shakedown period to test systems and work out bugs. It’s now scheduled to be ready for initial combat duty in 2022.
The $12.9 billion figure is misleading, as it includes development costs on several all-new shipboard systems, which won’t carry over as more Ford-class ships are built.
This propulsion issue seems to be due to “an out of specification condition,” which I assume to mean some kind of manufacturing defect, and therefore ought to be repairable.
More worrisome is that the Navy can’t seem to get the Ford‘s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) working to spec — and EMALS is a huge part of the justification for the Ford-class of carriers. It’s supposed to allow for more sorties and less wear-and-tear on the aircraft, but testing still isn’t going gone well. If the Navy and shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls can’t get EMALS to work as advertised, or at least to work as well as the steam-driven catapults on the existing Nimitz-class carriers, then it puts the entire Ford-class at risk. And despite what President Trump said last year, you can’t go back to “goddamned steam” without redesigning the entire ship.