The Navy’s two newest aircraft carriers have a problem with their toilets getting clogged and it costs $400,000 to fix each time there’s an issue with their sewage systems, according to a Congressional watchdog report released Tuesday.
The Norfolk-based USS Gerald R. Ford and USS George H.W. Bush were both built with a new toilet and sewage system that’s similar to what is used on commercial aircraft, but increased in scale to accommodate more than 4,000 people, the report said.
But there’s been unexpected and frequent clogging of the system, causing the Navy to determine it needs to acid flush each aircraft carrier’s sewage system “on a regular basis.”
“According to fleet maintenance officials, while each acid flush costs about $400,000, the Navy has yet to determine how often and for how many ships this action will need to be repeated, making the full cost impact difficult to quantify,” the report said.
Both ships were built at Newport News Shipbuilding, which also recently christened the future aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. Shelby Oakley, a director in GAO’s Contracting and National Security Acquisitions team, said the Kennedy has the same system.
“The issue is not with water pressure because the system is a pressurized vacuum system. The issue, essentially, is that the pipes are too narrow and when there are a bunch of sailors flushing the toilet at the same time, like in the morning, the vacuum pressure doesn’t work as effectively,” Oakley wrote in an email to The Virginian-Pilot.
“Waste builds up because it isn’t sucked down and then you need the acid wash.”
Billions in unexpected costs
The cost issues with the clogged toilets were included in a report that focused on how the Navy could save money by paying attention to future maintenance concerns when designing and building ships.
The GAO found 150 examples of systemic maintenance problems throughout the fleet for all classes of ships, resulting in at least $130 billion more in maintenance than the Navy planned.
The report was requested by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“As we state in our report, the quantity and breadth of the 150 problems we found — resulting in billions of dollars in unexpected costs, maintenance delays, and unreliable ships — suggest that existing policies and guidance have not ensured that new ships are reliable and can be sustained as planned,” the report said.
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