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The US Navy's grappling with another Ford-class supercarrier delay that could run into the next decade

Chris Panella   

The US Navy's grappling with another Ford-class supercarrier delay that could run into the next decade
  • The US' third Ford-class carrier is delayed and now may not be delivered until 2030.
  • Navy officials attributed the delay to supply chain issues and lingering effects from COVID-19.

The US Navy's third Ford-class aircraft carrier is facing delays that might push its delivery to 2030.

The holdup, which Navy leaders said is due to supply chain issues and lingering effects of COVID-19, is the latest problem in the Ford program and comes at a time when some rivals are outpacing American shipbuilding efforts.

After a 45-day review ordered by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro back in January, Navy leaders determined USS Enterprise (CVN-80) would be delayed from 18 to 26 months after its planned delivery date of March 2028. The supercarrier will now deliver in September 2029 at the absolute earliest — and May 2030 at the latest.

This assessment, which notes potentially more extensive delays than were shown in the Navy's Fiscal Year 2025 budget documents, comes after reporting last fall indicated the Enterprise was delayed about a year.

The 45-day review also found that the majority of the Navy's biggest programs, from its Block IV Virginia-class submarines to the Constellation-class guided missile frigates, were all facing delays of one to three years at current production performance.

Hon. Nick Guertin, the Navy's acquisition executive, attributed the shipbuilding delays to "common issues from lingering COVID impacts across the national workforce and supply chain landscape with industry reticent to invest." He told reporters at a recent roundtable evening, a transcript of which was provided to BI, that issues with supply chains and materials were the main cause of Enterprise's delays.

The following Ford-class carrier, USS Doris Miller (CVN-81), is currently on schedule thanks to the Navy buying both the Enterprise and Miller at the same time. "What we saw with 81 [Miller] was that the two-ship buy is providing some significant benefits there" Vice Adm. Downey said. Whether that will continue to be the case remains to be seen.

Downey also said modifications to the dry dock at Newport News Shipbuilding's yard that enable two aircraft carriers to be built in the same dock at the same time were preventing the Enterprise from running into even more delays and helping the Miller stay on track.

The Ford program is no stranger to problems and delays. The first-in-class ship, USS Gerald R. Ford, saw years of delays and ballooning costs thanks to problems, though that was largely due to to the integration of new technologies. The Ford, which entered service in 2017 but didn't set sail on its maiden voyage — not even a full deployment — until 2022, had a price tag of more than $13 billion, putting its cost above the Navy's original estimate by several billion dollars.

A key challenge with the first-in-class Ford was adding 23 new technologies aboard the ship, which retired Adm. Michael Gilday, former chief of naval operations, said in 2021 had "increased the risk" of delays and cost issues "right from the get-go."

While it appears the Navy has learned lessons from the Ford's development, COVID-19 and its impact on shipbuilding and labor may have exacerbated already existing issues, leading to the delays the Enterprise is facing today.

News of the Enterprise's delay comes at a precarious time for the US Navy. With China rapidly surpassing American shipbuilding in quantity and tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, there are concerns among leadership in Washington, DC about what conflict between the two powers would look like.

China's naval capabilities have been on the rise since the mid-1990s, and it is now, according to the Department of Defense, "the largest navy in the world with a battle force of over 370 platforms." It's expected to reach 395 by 2025 and 435 by 2030.

All of these numbers overshadow US naval capacity. Notably, the Navy has increasingly prioritized the development of unmanned systems in the force, a movement also occurring across other branches of the military.

Other Chinese military capabilities, such as the People's Liberation Army's Rocket Force and its arsenal of so-called "carrier killer" anti-ship missiles, raise questions about the role carriers could and would play in a naval conflict. China has been increasingly building out these capabilities to threaten US warships in the Pacific.

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