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Modly: U.S. Navy Might Not Buy More Ford-Class Carriers

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USS Ford under way for sea trials (file image courtesy USN)

By The Maritime Executive 03-09-2020 06:40:00

The U.S. Navy may not purchase more than four new Ford-class carriers, the head of the service said last week. A four-ship run would fall far short of the ten-ship series for the previous Nimitz-class design. 

“I don’t know if we’re going to buy any more of that type [Ford-class]," Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told DefAeroReport. “We’re certainly thinking about possible other classes. What are we going to learn on these four that’s going to inform what we do next? But we have some time now, we have up until 2026, 2027 before we have to make a really firm decision."

At $12-13 billion each, the Ford-class carriers are the most expensive warships ever built. The Navy is actively looking to trim billions out of its budget in order to fund smaller, more distributed surface warfare assets, including unmanned / optionally-manned surface combatants. Many defense analysts caution that large, high-value assets - like supercarriers - are potentially more vulnerable to new ballistic missile and hypersonic projectile threats. 

The Pentagon has already committed to buy four hulls in the Ford series - the future USS Gerald R. Ford, USS John F. Kennedy, USS Enterprise and USS Dorris Miller. The last two hulls were purchased in a block-buy in order to reduce cost. USS Ford has been delivered, and construction on USS Kennedy and USS Enterprise is under way. 

The first-in-class USS Ford has experienced serious challenges with next-generation technology, notably with her advanced weapons elevators. Only four of her electromagnetically-actuated elevators are functioning, all in the upper stage. Work on installing, testing and certifying her seven lower-stage elevators is under way. Without the elevators, Ford cannot arm her aircraft for sorties. 

“The biggest problem . . . are the hatches and the doors,” Modly said. “There are 70 total doors for the 11 elevators and they’re down to 20 that need to be fitted properly to make sure they work."

The Navy's estimates indicate that the ship will deploy for the first time in 2024, six years behind schedule. In the interim, she is serving as the carrier flight training platform for the U.S. East Coast region.