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‘All Hands on Deck’: US Navy Sets Ambitious Deadlines for Embattled $13 Billion Aircraft Carrier

Now years behind schedule, a new certification and deployment framework has been set up for the USS Gerald R. Ford by the US Navy’s new acting secretary.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced Thursday that the USS Ford will soon embark on a new series of certifications to ensure the multibillion-dollar aircraft carrier is ready for deployment by the first quarter of fiscal year 2022, which begins in October 2021. 

“The American taxpayers have invested significant capital into this ship and they deserve nothing less,” he said in a service-wide announcement issued on December 19. “We are going to make FORD ready with all hands on deck, as one team."

The release noted the Navy’s first goal in this series of USS Ford maintenance will be the completion of its “Aircraft Compatibility Testing” for all the carrier’s relevant aircraft by March 2020. Further along in the process, the Navy hopes to have two additional weapons elevators  installed "to enable access to magazines” by the end of fiscal 2020, which ends in September. The final task in the extensive list noted the delivery of parts needed to enable the vessel’s deployment by March 2020, following the July 2021 certification of the USS Ford’s combat system. 

As if these deadlines are not ambitious enough for the US Navy’s most expensive aircraft carrier to date, Modly said that a secondary goal for the service is to meet these target dates ahead of schedule. 

The acting secretary also explained that the start of  these tasks will be marked by the first Make Ford Ready summit on January 9, 2020 - an event which will include “every stakeholder in government and industry.” 

From non-functioning weapons elevators to a faulty propulsion system, there have been several maintenance issues on the USS Ford over the past year which have kept the costly carrier from returning to the seas. 

Former Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer even put his job on the line in regard to the weapons elevators, telling US President Donald Trump in 2018 that he would welcome being fired if the munitions elevators were not functioning by the then-July 2019 deadline. 

While Spencer was ultimately asked to resign over his handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s war crimes case, the US president did note via Twitter on November 24 that “large cost overruns from past administration’s contracting procedures were not addressed” to his satisfaction. 

Modly, the Navy’s under secretary, has been serving as acting secretary since the office was vacated. The service official concluded his December 19 address to the Navy by asserting the USS Ford “is just the first ship of this new class” and “must set the standard for those that will follow.” 


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