The Navy has mounted an all-out push to move the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford toward deployment and leave a long history of technical problems in its wake.
In December, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly ordered the crew of the $12.9 billion warship to meet a series of deadlines starting in spring. On Thursday, he summoned 40 representatives of government and industry to a meeting dubbed the "Make Ford Ready" summit.
Bottom line: America's most expensive warship won't deploy in 2020, but it should be a very busy year.
"I'm extremely bullish on Ford," Modly said in a post-summit statement, "and our Navy should be, too."
What the acting secretary described as an "all hands on deck" approach comes after years of delays, cost overruns and technical problems on key systems. The ship was originally scheduled for delivery in September 2015. It was commissioned into service in July 2017. Even if Mobly's new deadlines hold, the Ford won't be certified to deploy until late 2021.
Currently, the ship is about two months into an 18-month test-and-trial period.
The new deadlines, in March and June, will target the ship's flight deck, ensuring that two new and troubled systems can safely launch and recover aircraft. By September, two lower-stage weapons elevators must be completed. Weapons elevators transport ordnance up to the flight deck, and their performance has been a sore spot going back to last year.
The remaining elevators and combat system testing should be complete by mid-2021 before shock trials, where live explosives are detonated near the ship. This could easily result in more repairs and a change in timeline.
The Modly memo also directs Rear Adm. Jim Downey, the top officer for aircraft carrier programs, to "establish a permanent presence in Norfolk to ensure that these efforts proceed expeditiously."
Downey, who is no stranger to Hampton Roads, is equally optimistic.