The Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned in a report published yesterday that the cost overruns on the first ship of the Gerald R. Ford class (CVN-78) of aircraft carriers may continue to rise because of questions about some of its planned capabilities and the “underperformance” of prime contractor Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII).

Construction of the CVN-78. Photo by Huntington Ingalls Industries.

The GAO (GAO 13-396) said the cost of the Ford is already at $12.8 billion, or 22 percent above the cost budgeted in 2008. “Additional increases could follow due to uncertainties facing critical technology systems and shipbuilder underperformance,” the report said.

The Navy has encountered “mixed progress” so far in developing the capabilities and technologies planned for the CVN-78, including on the electro-magnetic catapult system for launching aircraft, the GAO said. That system is intended to replace the traditional steam-driven catapults.

The GAO warned that the Navy could also face “costly” retrofits after the carrier is delivered because delays in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program have slowed testing. The Ford is scheduled for delivery in 2016.

The GAO said the land-based testing programs for several of the technologies are behind schedule.

“At the same time, the ship’s design stability–a key factor in controlling future cost growth–is contingent on critical technologies maturing in the configurations currently anticipated,” the report said. “In addition, construction inefficiencies at the shipyard have delayed-and threaten additional delays to-ship launch and delivery.”

“These combined challenges and uncertainties suggest that more cost growth could occur for CVN-78,” the report said.

In addition to the electro-magnetic launch system, GAO cited developmental and testing challenges with a planned radar system and arresting gear for aircraft landings. The GAO raised questions about whether the Navy and HII will be able to effectively apply the lessons learned on the lead ship to the next vessel in the class, the John F. Kennedy (CVN-79).