USS Gerald R Ford returns to port with propulsion issues

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) arriving at Naval Station Norfolk on April 14, 2017. Photo: US Navy

The US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier was forced to return to port after suffering another propulsion issue as it set out for a new round of at sea testing.

The recently-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford got underway from Norfolk on May 19 but was forced to return due to a propulsion system issue related to a recent design change, a Navy Times report says.

This second propulsion issue is unrelated to a previous one identified earlier this year. According to Navy Times, the current issues are related to mechanical failures which prevent steam produced in the ship’s nuclear plant from adequately spinning the ship’s 30-ton propellers.

According to the report, the USS Gerald R. Ford was expected to spend a longer period of time underway prior to heading to Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News yard for a post-shakedown availability maintenance which is designed to rectify all issues identified during the sea trials.

On April 2, 2018, HII received a contract potentially worth up to $66.5 million to carry out the PSA which is expected to be completed by June 2019.

Every new ship undergoes a post-shakedown availability (PSA) after going through a test and evaluation period. During the availability, contractors repair or improve the design of the ship in preparation for final contractor trials.

While CVN 78 is the first new US aircraft carrier design in 40 years and identifying problems with the ship’s design and systems is part of the evaluation process, officials are still concerned with some of the brand new systems installed on the lead ship in the class.

In its latest report, the director of operational test and evaluation identified poor or unknown reliability of the newly designed catapults, arresting gear, weapons elevators, and radar. All these systems are critical for flight operations and DOT&E notes they could affect the ability of CVN 78 to generate sorties, make the ship more vulnerable to attack, or create limitations during routine operations.

USS Gerald R. Ford was ordered from Huntington Ingalls Industries, on Sept. 10, 2008 while the keel laying ceremony took place on November 13, 2009. The aircraft carrier was launched on October 11, 2013, and started sea trials in April 2017. Ford entered service in July 2017.

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