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The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) departs Naval Station Norfolk to transit to Newport News Shipyard in support of her Planned Incremental Availability (PIA), a six-month period of modernization, maintenance and repairs, Aug. 20, 2021.

The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) departs Naval Station Norfolk to transit to Newport News Shipyard in support of her Planned Incremental Availability (PIA), a six-month period of modernization, maintenance and repairs, Aug. 20, 2021. (William Spears/U.S. Navy)

(Tribune News Service) — Problems with the arresting gear on USS Gerald R. Ford show why the Navy’s Supervisors of Shipbuilding should get more access to subcontractors and suppliers, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said.

A new report from the federal watchdog agency said the supervisors’ limited oversight away from the shipyards where they are stationed can pose a challenge to the Navy’s efforts to improve the quality of new ships.

“The U.S. Navy faces considerable challenges in meeting the shipbuilding goals ... with existing programs experiencing years of construction delays, billions of dollars in cost growth, and frequent quality and performance shortfalls,” GAO said.

Supervisors of Shipbuilding are stationed at yards, including Newport News Shipbuilding, and are responsible for evaluating construction and business practices. But their operating manual says they need to rely on the shipyards and the Defense Contract Management Agency to check the quality of materials and equipment supplied by subcontractors or by firms the Navy contracts with for major systems, like the Ford’s arresting gear.

In the case of Ford’s government-furnished electromagnetic advanced arresting gear, the system that catches aircraft when they land on the flight deck, DCMA and Naval Air Systems Command handled inspections at the supplier’s facilities, GAO said.

The Supervisor of Shipbuilding at Newport News did not get a look before the system arrived at the yard, the GAO said.

“The SUPSHIP’s lack of earlier involvement limited its ability to help the program office address issues with this new, high-risk system in the lead-up to acceptance trials and the Navy’s subsequent decision to accept ship delivery,” the report said.

It said the Chief of Naval Operations granted a waiver excluding the advanced arresting gear from inspection during acceptance trials. Those trials are the key test a new ship must pass before the Navy takes delivery.

“This further reduced opportunities for the SUPSHIP overseeing CVN 78 to observe the performance of this integrated system and understand any quality concerns before the Navy’s ship delivery decision,” the GAO said.

Such waivers are another important limit on the supervisors’ ability to assure quality, the report said.

It said waivers for another critical system on the Ford, the 11 advanced weapons elevators, impaired sailors’ ability to transport weapons to the aircraft carrier’s deck for more than 4 years after the Navy accepted delivery of the ship. The last of the elevators was certified in December.

The supervisors do have power to withhold payments to shipyards, but their use of this authority is limited, GAO said.

Since May 2011, they withheld payments from five shipbuilders totaling about $63 million based on deficiencies across five contractor business systems, the report said.

It can take years to resolve these issues, GAO said, noting that General Dynamics-Electric Boat, which builds Virginia and Columbia class submarines in partnership with Newport News, took about 2½ years to resolve deficiencies for which the Groton supervisor withheld payments. It took the supervisor another 2½ years to fully validate the yard’s corrective action.

The GAO study looked at 12 ships, although only Ford and the Virginia class submarine USS Delaware were built at Newport News.

It said the Secretary of the Navy should consider giving the supervisors oversight of government-furnished equipment, like the Ford’s arresting gear.

The Navy’s contracts for such systems from a supplier that is not the shipyard itself should include ways to mitigate risk, while the Secretary of the Navy and Naval Sea Systems Command should update guidelines to give the supervisors a role in ship design and development of requirements to be specified in contracts.

It said the supervisors’ deputy commander should report to the Chief of Naval Operations on the quality and readiness of ships before the Navy decides to take delivery.

dress@dailypress.com

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