The Navy’s top acquisition official on Tuesday said he expects the Defense Department to make a final decision on whether the Navy will buy two Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers at once by the end of the calendar year and the savings will exceed $2.5 billion.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN-RDA) James Geurts told the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee the Navy is still evaluating the benefits of the potential purchase. The FY 2019 NDAA required the Secretary of Defense to certify suitable savings in a two carrier buy to the defense committees within 30 days before entry into a contract (Defense Daily, July 24).

The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) underway on its own power for the first time during its builder's sea trials in April 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy).
The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) underway on its own power for the first time during its builder’s sea trials in April 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy).

Geurts said the Navy has been working closely with Ford shipyard Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII], “negotiating what savings would look like should we go into a two-carrier condition. We think those savings will be better than the $2.5 billion number” he previously told the committee (Defense Daily, March 7).

He noted the department is going through the FY 2020 budget process so a final decision of whether the Navy “will “go down the path” of buying two carriers at once.

Although Geurts could not give a “drop dead date” to subcommittee chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (R- Miss.) if a decision occurs much past the end of the calendar year, the savings achievable from a two carrier buy “will start to erode” since CVN-80 is on contract.

Geurts also acknowledged some problems with the advanced weapons elevator for the first ship in the class, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), but has decided not to put together an independent review team specifically for the system on that ship.

Whereas independent teams were previously used for issues with the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear on one carrier, Geurts said he is “likely to do an independent review team, not on the immediate construction for CVN-78, but looking at the longer-term sustainability resilience, reliability to make sure we’re in a position to support those elevators for the long term.”

The Navy has done several independent reviews for the CVN-78 elevator design as it is, so “we won’t do one on the current efforts on 78. We’ve got a dedicated team working our way thorugh those issues.”

He underscored there are 11 weapons elevators that the Navy will test and certify. Of the first two elevators produced, the first one is through tests and evaluation and the second is about 94 percent through testing.

Following the hearing, Geurts told reporters he is positioning the review team to support the elevators for the long-term life of the Ford-class carriers. This entails having the right documentation, architecture, dealing with obsolescence of parts over time, and reliability for systems in the field.

Geurts said the independent review team is not driven by a lack of confidence in the current CVN-78 elevator team, but “what I find these review teams are good at is looking longer term to make sure we’ve got the right strategic mindset to support that system.”