Four years after the U.S. Navy’s costliest warship was hobbled by a flaw in its propulsion system, prime contractor Huntington Ingalls Industries and subcontractor General Electric are still haggling over who will pay for fixing the defect.
The $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford was forced to return to port during post-delivery sea trials in early 2018 after the failure of the main thrust bearing, a key propulsion system component that’s made by GE.
Huntington Ingalls has repaired the faulty gear, and the Navy advanced funds for the work. The “actual root cause” of the defective part was “machining errors” by GE workers, according to Navy documents. The bearing, one of four that transfers thrust from the ship’s four propeller shafts, overheated but “after securing the equipment to prevent damage, the ship safely returned to port,” the Navy said in a March 2018 memo to Congress.
The Ford returned to sea for additional trials after the damage was contained. Now, the Navy wants to deploy it by midyear on its first operational patrol after years of problems and delays, formally bringing its carrier force to 11.
Vice Admiral Thomas Moore, then head of the Naval Sea Systems Command, told reporters in 2019 that the Navy was paying for the repairs until GE and Huntington “figure out who has the liability for it. At some point, you’ve got to pay them to get the work done.” The Navy has declined to say how much it paid Huntington, although in 2018 it asked Congress to shift $30 million from other accounts to start work.
The companies are still hashing things out.
“We are continuing to work on a final agreement with GE to resolve this claim,” Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for Newport News, Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls, said in a statement. Sean Smith, a spokesman for Boston-based GE, said “we continue working with the U.S. Navy and Huntington Ingalls to resolve this issue.” GE hasn’t commented publicly on the Navy’s contention that its workers were at fault.
Captain Clay Doss, a Navy spokesman, said the service “does not comment on ongoing negotiations.”
The Ford’s propulsion system flaws are separate from reliability issues that plagued its advanced system to launch and recover aircraft and the elevators needed to move munitions from below decks.