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Navy secretary: Navy, shipbuilder 'in a better place' after criticism of USS Ford

In an Oct. 28, 2019 photo, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) steams in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time since July 2018.

CONNOR LOESSI/U.S. NAVY

By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press | Published: November 7, 2019

After some recent public fireworks, the Navy and Huntington Ingalls are sounding united when it comes to preparing the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford for deployment.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer recently criticized company senior management regarding the ship’s advanced weapons elevators. HII first said the elevators would be ready by July of this year, then said work would take much longer, Spencer complained.

He leveled his criticism in public appearances and in comments to reporters at Naval Station Norfolk.

The elevators transport ordnance up to the flight deck, and their reliability is crucial during combat operations. It marks one of many technical challenges the first-in-class ship has faced during its short lifespan.

HII President and CEO Mike Petters briefly addressed the matter Thursday during a conference call to discuss third-quarter earnings with analysts.

With mentioning Spencer’s criticism, Petters said he reached out to the Navy secretary and all sides are on the same page going forward.

“I have spoken directly with both Navy Secretary Spencer and Assistant Secretary (James) Geurts and we are aligned on the plan to get the ship ready for deployment as soon as possible,” he said. “We have a great team that includes Newport News Shipbuilding, the Navy and other industry experts, and I am confident that our collective efforts on Ford will bring superior capability to the Navy and to the nation for decades to come.”

That got an endorsement from Spencer.

“Secretary Spencer agrees they are aligned and in a better place now,” said Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, his spokeswoman. “We have a ship’s force at sea doing fantastic work. Vigilance, at all levels and by all stakeholders, will continue.”

Geurts, the Navy’s acquisition chief, recently told reporters he was pleased with the Ford’s progress during its last 90 days in the Newport News shipyard. The ship was there for 15 months, during which a variety of repairs and upgrades were completed.

“Their pace of working getting down and closing out work, of training and getting ready, was what you want to see out of a high-performing integrated team,” Geurts said.

The Ford’s elevators use an electro-mechanical system that, when working, is 50% faster than the hydraulic elevators aboard Nimitz-class ships and has two times more capacity.

Additional elevators will be certified in the coming months, Navy officials have said, and all 11 will be finished during the upcoming 18 months as the Ford undergoes further tests.

Turning to the third quarter report, HII’s profits dropped from a year ago, although the company beat analysts’ expectations in other areas.

Profits, or net earnings, for the three-month period ending in September were down nearly 33% when compared to the same period last year, the company reported.

Net earnings stood at $154 million, compared with $229 million from last year, according to the report filed Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The nation’s largest military shipbuilder beat analysts’ expectations in two areas: total revenue and earnings per share. Third-quarter revenue was $2.22 billion, which was $20 million higher than expected. Earnings per share of $3.74 was 11 cents higher.

Petters said a flurry of recent work across HII’s two shipyards — in Newport News and on the Gulf Coast — have helped put the company in a good position going forward.

During the past several weeks, the aircraft carrier George Washington passed a milestone on its mid-life refueling and overhaul at Newport News, leaving its dry dock.

Also at Newport News, the submarine USS Delaware was delivered to the Navy, while aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy was floated in its dry dock in advance of its Dec. 7 christening.

At Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi, acceptance trials were completed on the amphibious assault ship Tripoli. That ship is on track for delivery to the Navy late this year or in early 2020.

©2019 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
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