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Mabus: Ford carrier will be delivered 'as soon as it's ready'

The superstructure and flight deck of the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) are illuminated at night Aug. 11, 2016 in Newport News, Virginia. The Ford is under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding.

GITTE SCHIRRMACHER/U.S. NAVY

By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: October 14, 2016

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Thursday cited progress toward resolving troublesome issues on the new aircraft carrier Gerald R Ford, but declined to predict when it would join the fleet.

In a visit to Newport News Shipbuilding, Mabus toured the $12.9 billion first-in-class warship originally slated for delivery in September 2015. The Newport News shipyard, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, is the sole manufacturer of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers for the Navy.

An exchange of memos over the summer highlighted several persistent problems with the ship. That includes Ford's power generation system, which suffered an electrical component failure during testing.

The advanced arresting gear that allows planes to land safely has also prompted ongoing questions about reliability and effectiveness.

Frank Kendall, a Defense Department undersecretary and lead weapons buyer, ticked off those concerns and others in a memo to Mabus, who addressed each one in a subsequent memo.

Speaking Thursday with the massive carrier in the background, Mabus said, "I think we're a long ways down that road" to fixing the power-generation issue.

He gave a similar assessment of the advanced arresting gear (AAG), which has been installed on the Ford but is still being tested.

The Navy is studying whether to continue with AAG on the next Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy, which is under construction at the shipyard and about 23 percent complete.

"Everything that has been brought up lately, we have been looking at for years, and testing for years," he said.

Kendall ordered a review of the Ford program, which is now under way and should be complete by December. Until all concerns are resolved, Mabus said he can't specify a delivery date.

"As soon as it's ready," he said. "I'm not going to give you a date. But the testing is going well. Getting to the root cause of the generator problem is going well."

He also reiterated an oft-stated observation: that the Ford suffers from a decision made more than a decade ago to pack new technology on the ship instead of phasing in new systems over three ships.

"It's not the shipyard," he said. "It was us doing this to them."

Mabus will speak to sailors Friday morning at Naval Station Norfolk and deliver lunchtime remarks at a meeting of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

The former governor of Mississippi, Mabus has served as Navy secretary since 2009 — longer than anyone since World War I. With his tenure winding down, he took time to highlight what he sees as major accomplishments during his service.

During the seven years before he took office, the Navy fleet declined from 316 ships to 278 ships, he said. The Navy put 41 ships under contract, but that didn't prevent the fleet from getting smaller.

In his seven-plus years, the Navy has put 86 ships under contract.

"And we've done it with a smaller budget, a smaller top line," he said.

The importance of naval presence around the globe was apparent in recent days with two failed missile attacks on the destroyer USS Mason off the coast of Yemen and a subsequent counterattack by the USS Nitze, he said.

Mason and Nitze are based in Norfolk.

"When this happened, we didn't have to go looking for a ship," he said. "We didn't have to send a ship somewhere. We didn't have to say, 'Well, wait a minute. You're in big trouble in about six weeks when we get a ship here.' We were there."

©2016 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
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A photo illustration shows the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, the second ship in the Gerald R. Ford class, the Navy's newest class of nuclear aircraft carriers.
U.S. NAVY

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