The Navy's newest supercarriers can't carry its new F-35 stealth fighters, and Congress is not happy about it
- The Navy has been accepting new aircraft carriers batteries not included - unfinished and missing key capabilities - to skirt cost caps.
- The USS Gerald R. Ford and the future USS John F. Kennedy do not and will not have the ability to deploy with fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters until post-delivery modifications have been completed.
- Lawmakers have decided to change things up with new legislation that will require the Navy to give the Kennedy this capability before it takes delivery of the carrier.
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The new Ford-class supercarriers are being delivered to the US Navy without the ability to carry the service's new stealth fighters, and lawmakers have decided to put a stop to it.
It's very difficult to get something like an aircraft carrier cheaply and quickly and have it work well. In the case of the Ford-class carriers, the Navy program is facing cost overruns, delivery delays, and missing capabilities.The Navy has been accepting unfinished aircraft carriers that are lacking critical capabilities, such as the ability to launch and recover F-35s.
The service has been planning to complete the necessary work after delivery to skirt the caps imposed by Congress to keep costs from soaring, USNI News reported this week. The workaround ultimately results in higher costs in the long run.
The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), which should be delivered back to the fleet this fall, currently lacks the ability to deploy with F-35s, and the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), which is still in the works, will not be able to deploy with F-35s either, at least not upon initial delivery.
That's a big problem for Congress.
"CVN-79 will not be able to deploy with F-35s when it's delivered to the Navy," a congressional staffer said this week, telling reporters that it's "unacceptable to our members that the newest carriers can't deploy with the newest aircraft."
The Navy argues that while the newest carriers may not be ready to carry F-35s upon delivery due to the need for additional modifications, none of which require significant redesigns to the ship, they will be ready to go by the time the air wing is stood up and the carrier-based F-35Cs are ready for operational deployment aboard the Navy's new flattops.The "F-35C modifications for CVN-78 and CVN-79 are currently scheduled for a future post-delivery modernization maintenance period that will occur prior to the planned F-35C operations on those carriers," Captain Daniel Hernandez, a spokesman for the Navy acquisitions chief, told Business Insider.
The two follow-on Ford-class carriers, CVN-80 and 81, "will be constructed with those modifications made during construction and will not require a post-delivery modification," he further explained.
Congress isn't having it
Lawmakers, however, are not satisfied with the Navy's plans.
The House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces has included a line in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which is still ongoing legislation, requiring that the USS John F. Kennedy be capable of deploying with F-35s before the Navy takes delivery of the new carrier.
Experts agree that it's time for action.
"I think it's a good idea to drive the Navy to make the ship more complete when it's delivered because that's a problem that's getting worse, not better," Bryan Clark, a defense expert and former Navy officer, told Business Insider, explaining that Congress will need to provide financial relief as changes to the service's current approach to aircraft carrier development will likely result in higher upfront costs.
Lawmakers have proposed amending the cost caps on the new supercarriers, a change the Navy welcomes.
"The Navy supports the lifting of cost caps on CVN78 - CVN81 so that it can take full advantage of opportunities to deliver capability earlier and more rapidly incorporate new requirements into the ship baseline," Hernandez told Business Insider.The new legislative measures could address a serious problem for the Navy that truthfully extends well beyond the ability of its new carriers to carry F-35s.
With the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy has faced challenges with the electromagnetic aircraft launch system and the arresting gear for recovering planes, the propulsion system, and the advanced weapons elevators, basically everything required for an effective next-generation aircraft carrier.