Inconsistencies in Answers from Key Navy Leadership
WASHINGTON – At a House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Congresswoman Elaine Luria (VA-02), a 20-year Navy veteran who retired at the rank of Commander, questioned top Navy leadership on critical military readiness issues facing America and her Coastal Virginia district.
First, Congresswoman Luria questioned witnesses James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, and Vice Admiral Thomas J. Moore, Commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, on issues facing the American aircraft carrier fleet. Noting that six carriers sitting in Norfolk cannot be deployed, Congresswoman Luria offered the House Armed Services Committee’s support to achieve military readiness.
“We want to be here for readiness to provide you the tools to get the carriers out to deploy on time,” Congresswoman Luria said. “What else do you need to do that?”
Later, questioning VADM Moore, who led the FORD Program for five years, Congresswoman Luria again asked for a schedule for the USS FORD’s deployment – something she has done multiple times without adequate follow-up from the Navy. Geurts responded and said he would be willing to share a schedule with Congresswoman Luria anytime, but later added he would have answers on operational deployment “in the next 30 days.”
Congresswoman Luria has consistently expressed concerns about the delivery of the USS FORD, specifically persistent problems with the ship’s weapons elevators. As the deployment of the USS FORD continues to be delayed, nine of the 11 elevators that carry munitions are not functional.
When asked about the original delivery and deployment dates, VADM Moore said it should have been deployed 2018, a year ago. Under questioning from Congresswoman Luria, VADM Moore said “I think we’ll beat” 2024, but did not offer a certain answer.
“I just truly don’t feel like this is a great investment as a taxpayer – $13 billion on a ship that’s going to deploy six years past its original design timeline,” Congresswoman Luria said. She added that the USS FORD amounts to a “$13 billion nuclear-powered berthing barge.”
Though VADM Moore assured Congresswoman Luria that Navy leaders have the capacity at Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to accomplish the fleet’s required carrier maintenance, she remained skeptical that the carriers could move through maintenance in a timely manner to ensure readiness and on-time deployments.
Note: The Truman has had unexpected problems, but the ship should be fixed shortly, although he didn’t offer a date. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is preparing for an upcoming deployment but isn’t immediately ready.
The USS George H.W. Bush entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard in February for a planned 28-month maintenance period. The George Washington remains at the Newport News shipyard for its mid-life refueling and overhaul, a multi-billion-dollar job expected to be completed in August 2021. One carrier is typically always undergoing a mid-life refit.
Meanwhile, the John C. Stennis has arrived at Norfolk because it is next in line after the George Washington.
The sixth and final East Coast carrier not yet ready to deploy is the USS Gerald R. Ford.
The Ford, the first of a new carrier class, has been plagued with technical problems throughout its short life. The most recent challenge: the ship’s advanced weapons elevators, designed to transport ordnance up to the flight deck.
The elevators are powered by an electro-mechanical system much different than elevators on older Nimitz-class ships, which employed a combination of hydraulics, wire rope and electric motors. Until recently, only two of the Ford’s 11 elevators were certified.
A $21 billion plan to upgrade its four public shipyards — including Norfolk Naval Shipyard — is underway.