Why the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier was forced back into port

The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford, heads to sea May 19 from its homeport at Norfolk, Va., to conduct extended operational testing of ship’s systems. The ship was forced back into port May 22 for needed adjustments to propulsion components, but is expected to return to sea soon. (Mark D. Faram/Navy Times) NORFOLK, Va. ― Yet another propulsion train problem has forced the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford, back into port for “adjustments” before it can get back underway to complete what had been expected to be a long testing period.

“The ship experienced a propulsion system issue associated with a recent design change, requiring a return to homeport for adjustments before resuming at sea testing,” said Colleen O’Rourke, spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington.

The ship left Norfolk early May 19 for what sources tell Navy Times was to be an extended period underway, slated to be the ship’s last sea time before entering its scheduled post-shakedown availability maintenance period at Huntington Ingalls Newport News shipyard this summer.

That yard period, known as a PSA, is expected to fix a laundry list of issues that have popped up in the past year onboard the first new carrier design the U.S. has fielded in 40 years.

Navy officials don’t know how long the current needed adjustments will take that caused the ship to abort its underway period. For security reasons, the Navy doesn’t normally discuss ship’s schedules, but the anticipation is that the ship will return to sea soon to resume testing.

“Ford has been tasked with conducting critical test and evaluation operations that identify construction and design issues,” O’Rourke said “As a continuation of that testing and evaluation process, Ford got underway to conduct an independent steaming event that would allow the ship and its crew to continue testing its systems and procedures.” Rather, the issues reside in the mechanical components associated in turning steam created by the nuclear plant into spinning screws that power the ship through the water. These include steam turbines, reduction gear, shafts and screws.

Details on exactly what in that drivetrain was redesigned and needs adjustment has not been released, though officials did say that this latest issue is unrelated to another propulsion-related issue that popped up earlier this year.

“During at-sea testing in January, the crew identified one component in the propulsion train was operating outside of design specifications and took action to place the propulsion train in a safe condition,” Bill Couch spokesman for Naval Sea System told Navy Times. “This was the second issue identified in the propulsion train in the last year.”

“The Navy and Newport News Shipbuilding have determined the required steps to correct the manufacturing defect,” Couch said. “The defects will be fully corrected during PSA.”

“As a first-in-class ship, this is not unexpected,” O’Rourke said. “Some of the ship’s components are most effectively tested while the ship is underway during typical steaming conditions. Events like this prove that the testing and evaluation process works. Corrections will be […]

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