A New Breakdown for the Navy's New Aircraft Carrier

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In January of this year, the USS Gerald Ford, the Navy’s new $13 billion aircraft carrier, experienced a problem with one of its four main thrust bearings that forced to ship to return to port earlier than planned from its sea trials.

The carriers are being constructed by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. (NYSE: HII) at a total acquisition cost of around $55 billion. Work on the carriers provides more than 20,000 jobs at Huntington’s Newport News shipyard.

The bearing itself was built by General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) at its plant in Lynn, Massachusetts, and Bloomberg noted that GE is responsible for the carrier’s propulsion systems. An inspection of the parts involved in the January incident revealed that the GE parts were the “root cause” of the failure.

According to a report in Popular Mechanics, Bloomberg News received a copy of an internal Navy memo that described the problem as a bearing temperature that was 92 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was supposed to be. The memo continued: “[A]fter securing the equipment to prevent damage, the ship safely returned to port.”

A GE spokesman said the company no longer produces gears for the USS Gerald Ford, but the faulty parts that are reportedly not within specifications either need to be repaired or replaced.

The ship is the first of a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that will ultimately include four new carriers: the Gerald Ford, the John F. Kennedy, the Enterprise and one more that is still unnamed. The Gerald Ford was commissioned into service in July of last year and has been undergoing trials since then.

The U.S. carrier fleet is made up of 11 nuclear-powered ships, 10 of which are the older Nimitz-class carriers that entered service in 1975. The number of ships in the carrier fleet is established in statute, which means that unless the law is changed a total of 11 Ford-class carriers ultimately will replace the existing 10 Nimitz class ships as the new carriers.

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