In addition to the Ford-class costs, the Navy budget is strained by midlife refueling of nuclear-powered Nimitz-class carriers like the Lincoln, which has generally run about $3 billion. The Navy is in the process of deactivating the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which has eight reactors—the most yet to be decommissioned—compared to one for a submarine and two for cruisers. The deactivation will take three years to complete and cost about $900 million, the Navy estimates.
The complexity of building a new carrier can be equally daunting. While Navy officials and executives at the Newport News (Va.) Shipbuilding unit of Huntington Ingalls Industries, the prime contractor, have been touting successes of the Ford class, others at the Pentagon have raised questions about program development. Newport News says it has completed about 90% of the ship and recently topped it off with a 555-metric-ton island.
Program officials praise the Ford class's technological developments, such as electromagnetic aircraft launching system (Emals), advanced arresting gear and dual-band radar. But, while the latest annual report by the Pentagon's director of operational testing and evaluation (DOT&E) notes the importance of these advancements, calling them “pacing items for successful delivery of the ship,” it also points out issues with each.
And then there are the known and unforeseen challenges with integrating Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter on the new flattop. “Navy Fleet Force's JSF 'day-in-the-life' analysis identified a significant number of aircraft-ship interface deficiencies that must be accomplished by the Navy in post-delivery ship modification,” says the DOT&E. These include JSF battle-damage assessment, Link-16 data-link imagery transfers and potential information or cybersecurity vulnerabilities.