Gilday, seeking the approval of the Senate Armed Services Committee to be the Defense Department’s chief of naval operations, offered testimony on Wednesday.
During the confirmation hearing, Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said that the because of the delays in construction on the vessels, the U.S. carrier fleet has been operating at a ship disadvantage since the 2012 decommissioning of the USS Enterprise.
Inhofe noted that only two of the carrier’s 11 elevators, used to move munitions, were installed when he visited the Newport News, Va., shipbuilding yard, citing “a level of arrogance that it didn’t really make any difference that the elevators don’t work.”
The ship’s post-shakedown availability to the U.S. Navy, scheduled for July, was postponed until October, and the elevator issue cannot be resolved until 2020.
“The Ford was awarded to a sole-source contractor” [to Hintington Ingalls Industries] and “next to no testing [on equipment that] had never been integrated on a ship: a new radar, arresting gear, and the weapons elevators,” Inhofe said.
“The Navy entered into this contract in 2008, which, combined with other contracts, ballooned the cost of the ship to more than $13 billion without understanding the technical risk, the cost or the schedules. This ought to be criminal.”
Navy commanders said in 2016 that the delays have caused extended deployments for operational carriers so the Navy can to meet its commitments around the world.
“We need all 11 elevators working in order to give us the kind of redundancy and combat readiness that the American taxpayer has invested in this ship,” Gilday said. “We’ve had 23 new technologies introduced on that ship, as you know. Of those, four were immature when we commissioned Ford in 2017.”
“We have seen progress in the launching system, the arresting gear and also with the dual-band radar,” Gilday added. “The reliability of those systems is trending in the right direction and actually where we want to be based on the last at-sea testing.”
The elevators are designed to move up to 24,000 pounds of ordnance at 150 feet per minute, a dramatic improvement over earlier, Nimitz-class carriers. The figure increases the number of launchable combat sorties by over 30 percent, officials have said.