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More than two years after the U.S. Navy committed to buy the final two ships in its $57 billion, four-vessel Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carriers, the company building the systems to launch and land planes from its deck is complaining that the service is dawdling on giving it a contract.

The delay on the systems for the USS Doris Miller, the last of the carriers, “is having negative impacts to the industrial base that I fear will only increase the longer it takes” to issue a contract, Scott Forney, president of the electromagnetics unit of closely held General Atomics wrote in a previously undisclosed June 25 letter to acting Navy weapons buyer Frederick Stefany that’s also been provided to congressional staff and lawmakers.

Forney said the company has provided two contract proposals since 2019, but “we have received no formal response.”

It’s a complaint endorsed by the House Appropriations Committee, which said Monday in its report on the Pentagon budget for fiscal 2022 that the delay is “causing a disruption to the production and manufacturing processes of these essential components, impacting the construction and increasing the cost growth” of the ship.

Navy spokesman Capt. Clay Doss said in an email on Monday night that a “preproduction planning contract” for the equipment “is on track for award” by Dec. 31 to support a “previously planned full construction contract award in fiscal 2023.”

As recently as May, the service praised the electromagnetic launch system and arresting gear on the first ship, the USS Gerald R, Ford, despite repeated questions about its performance raised by the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s own testing office.

Earlier problems with the advanced system gained then-President Donald Trump’s critical attention. Comparing the catapult system to the steam-driven version on previous ships, Trump said in 2018 that “steam is very reliable, and the electromagnetic -- I mean, unfortunately, you have to be Albert Einstein to really work it properly.”

Carlos Del Toro, President Joe Biden’s pick for Navy secretary, may be asked about the delayed contract at his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Contracting for the launch-and-landing system for the Doris Miller remains unresolved more than two years after the Navy announced a $15 billion, two-ship “Block Buy” for two carriers that it claimed could save at least $4 billion through combined efficiencies instead of buying the ships separately. Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. is the prime contractor for the Ford-class carriers.

“Production of many components” is now complete and “their associated manufacturing lines are growing cold,” Forney of General Atomics said in the letter, warning of potential job cuts.

Senate Armed Services Committee member Roger Wicker of Mississippi, where General Atomics manufactures the equipment, also has weighed in.

“It would be wise for the U.S. Navy to close on a contract for the catapults and arresting gear needed to complete the Doris Miller on time and at the lowest possible cost to the U.S. taxpayer,” the Republican said in a statement.

Doris Miller, the carrier’s namesake, was an African-American cook on the USS West Virginia who was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt returns to Naval Air Station North Island on May 25.
Aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt returns to Naval Air Station North Island on May 25. (Robert Price/U.S. Navy)

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