As of this article’s publishing, not one of the US Navy’s carriers on the Atlantic coast is ready for deployment - all six are tied up dockside in Norfolk, Virginia. Earlier this year, several of the huge, 100,000-ton warships returned to Norfolk for a series of overhauls, but others have encountered unexpected problems.
The USS George HW Bush began a 28-month overhaul in February, not due to finish until mid-2021. The USS George Washington only recently returned to the water from drydock, where it was receiving mid-life repairs and updates, and won’t be ready until late 2021.
The USS John C. Stennis arrived at port in May for its years-long midlife refueling and overhaul, but it must wait until the Washington’s retrofit is finished before it can begin, being assigned “chores” like hosting naval aviators who need to qualify for carrier operations in the meantime, Navy Times reported.
Other ships might be closer to setting sail soon, Breaking Defense noted, but it could be “weeks or months” before that happens. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower finished pre-deployment testing earlier this month, but must still complete further training before it’s ready to deploy; the USS Gerald R. Ford is expected to be delivered to the Navy before the end of the year.
The Ford should’ve been ready years ago, according to the Navy’s schedule, but one bungle after another in the ship’s many new advanced systems has left it unable to even be delivered. In August, the ship’s propulsion system was finally fixed, and shipmaker Huntington Ingalls has promised the Ford’s munitions elevators will all be working by the end of the year.
And then there is the USS Harry S. Truman: the aging flattop was scheduled to be deactivated by the Pentagon in a bid to save billions of dollars, but the decision was reversed by the Trump administration in April. However, after the warship suffered a massive electrical failure in August, it was forced to return to Norfolk for repairs, even as the rest of Truman’s battle group sailed on without it.
Chris Miner, vice president for in-service aircraft carriers at Huntington Ingalls subsidiary Newport News Shipbuilding, told Breaking Defense the shipyard was experiencing “one of our largest overlaps” in years. “There’s some challenges that we’re working through … we’ve had some overlap in the past but nothing quite like this … it’s nothing we can’t overcome.”
Miner noted the shipyard was pulling workers from the Bush and both workers and equipment from the Washington “so they can get [the Truman] fixed.”
A Navy spokesperson told the outlet Monday the service “does not expect any delays to other ships due to the restoration work aboard HARRY S. TRUMAN.” Another source familiar with the issue noted the Truman might be ready by the end of November, but cautioned that could be an optimistic estimate.
The Navy’s dire shortage of drydocks was highlighted in a March report the service made to Congress, which warned that in order to “avoid feast and famine cycles that erode both the repair industrial base and the underlying vendor supply base,” Congress must provide “consistent funding matched to steady demand for work.”
The report noted that on both coasts, the Navy has only 18 dry docks to cover its 11 aircraft carriers as well as dozens of submarines; over all, there are just 21 dry docks responsible for servicing 109 surface ships homeported in the US.
However, the Trump administration’s plan to expand the Navy to 355 ships from 287 by the year 2034 was highlighted as a major obstacle, USNI noted, since most of the fleet dates to the Cold War era.
Extending the Truman’s life is part of that goal, as is the rushed two-ship procurement Congress approved earlier this year to buy more Ford-class vessels even before the class’ lead ship has been fully troubleshot. Other problems include retaining servicemembers amid attempts to expand their numbers, which moves like the Navy’s revival of the Torpedoman’s Mate rating onboard submarines are intended to buttress.
While Russia’s naval expansion has been modest amid declining defense budgets, Beijing has pushed forward with a massive fleet buildup, commissioning new missile destroyers, attack submarines and amphibious assault ships, as well as building several aircraft carriers. A new dock and shipyard under construction in Shanghai will be able to accommodate carrier construction as well as mooring for dozens of warships.