The US Navy's Most Advanced Warship Joins The Fleet Today

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) underway on its own power for the first time, April 8, 2017.
U.S. Navy photo

Greg Willard remembers the excitement in his former boss’s voice when he called to share the news.

It was early November 2006 and Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter had summoned Willard to the Pentagon to discuss naming the country’s next aircraft carrier, now known to the world as the Gerald R. Ford.

“The president was so excited, almost ebullient, even though his health was fading, to know that this ship was going to be named for him,” Willard, who worked as a staff assistant to Ford, said earlier this week.

U.S. Navy photo

The future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) displays “up and over” flags in observance of Independence Day. Ford is currently making preparations for commissioning July 22.

He recounted the conversation while surrounded by photos and mementos of the 38th president in the new carrier’s Tribute Room.

Nearly 11 years after that call, the Navy’s most expensive and technologically advanced warship is poised to join the fleet.

As many as 10,000 people are expected to witness as the Ford is commissioned Saturday at Pier 11 on Naval Station Norfolk. The Navy said it will provide water as well as mist and hand fans for onlookers because of an oppressive heat wave promising temperatures in the high 90s that day. Seating also will be set up in the hangar bay of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower for people seeking shade before the 10 a.m. ceremony.

Sailors practiced for the day’s pomp and circumstance in the week leading up to the ceremony in the ship’s hangar bay. Row after row of white folding chairs was neatly aligned. A sailor stood at a podium and practiced introducing a litany of distinguished visitors – including President Donald J. Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as Ford’s chief of staff – while others buzzed around moving equipment, taking little heed as names were called out.

In one of the most iconic aspects of the tradition-worn ceremony, former first daughter and ship sponsor Susan Ford Bales will issue the long-awaited order to the crew to man the ship and bring it to life.

Her father served on the carrier USS Monterey in the Pacific during World War II and left the Navy in 1946 as a lieutenant commander. A napkin ring from the Monterey is among several items from the former president’s life that now adorn the captain’s inport cabin that Bales helped curate. Other items include an American flag, a desk chair and Ford’s 1992 Lone Sailor Award from the U.S. Navy Memorial.

Bales said her father, like many veterans, told few stories from his service. He did talk about “Halsey’s Typhoon,” which lashed the Monterey with swells up to 70 feet and nearly knocked him overboard, according to a Defense Department news release. Waves and winds tore fighter planes loose from their cables and a blaze erupted in the hangar bay as the aircraft collided, igniting fuel tanks. As the fire spread, Ford led a brigade that was credited with helping save lives.

As the USS Ford took shape over the last decade, Bales said she did what she thought her father, who died Dec. 26, 2006, would have done: be involved. She counts welding, pulling cable and other activities, including lunching with shipbuilders, among her tasks.

“It’s made a difference in my life, and I’ve had a great time doing it,” she said.

Trump’s visit to to the Ford also stands as a gray bookend to the administration’s “Made in America Week,” a campaign to highlight U.S.-manufactured products.

But Trump, who is expected to land by Marine helicopter on the Ford’s flight deck Saturday, will set foot on a first-in-its-class ship that has for years been hammered by Congress and the Government Accountability Office for cost overruns, reliability issues and construction delays.

The GAO again dinged the Ford last week in a report examining the Navy’s post-delivery shipbuilding processes, saying it could face “unknown quality” risks because it was delivered in late May with “a substantial amount of incomplete work.” The report said about four years and at least $780 million worth of work remains to address deficiencies, complete construction and finish tests and trials before the ship becomes combat-ready.

That work is incorporated into the Ford’s nearly $13 billion price tag, Capt. Thurraya Kent, a spokeswoman for the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said in a statement Thursday.

“Like all newly commissioned ships, CVN 78 will undergo Post-Shakedown Availability to correct any deficiencies deferred from its initial builder’s and acceptance trials, to work out maintenance discrepancies and to update equipment,” Kent said.

The Ford incorporates so many advanced technologies, including a new nuclear reactor plant, propulsion system, dual-band radar and systems to launch and land aircraft, that Navy leaders have said the new carrier class is virtually incomparable to the 10-ship Nimitz class that preceded it.

Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security, said with all those technologies loaded into a first-of-its-class carrier, the amount of work left to do before the Ford can deploy is without precedent. Any additional problems that arise that threaten to push the Ford further into the future would only strain the rest of the fleet, Hendrix said.

“We’re almost a generation removed from the decision-makers, but now we’re dealing with the effects of those decisions,” he said.


©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Joel Marrable (Laquna Ross via CNN)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs put on leave an Atlanta-based administrator and reassigned the region's chief medical officer and seven other staff members while it investigates the treatment of a veteran under its care.

Joel Marrable's daughter discovered more than 100 ant bites on her father when she visited him in early September.

The daughter, Laquna Ross, told Channel 2 Action News: "His room had ants, the ceiling, the walls, the beds. They were everywhere. The staff member says to me, 'When we walked in here, we thought Mr. Marrable was dead. We thought he wasn't even alive, because the ants were all over him.'"

Read More Show Less
he amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) returns to homeport at Naval Base San Diego on February 25, 2015. (U.S. Navy/ Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Corwin Colbert)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A former U.S. Navy sailor was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday for having sexual contact with a 14-year-old Oceanside girl in 2017, federal prosecutors in San Diego said in a statement.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Known for acting on impulse, President Donald Trump has adopted an uncharacteristically go-slow approach to whether to hold Iran responsible for attacks on Saudi oil facilities, showing little enthusiasm for confrontation as he seeks re-election next year.

After state-owned Saudi Aramco's plants were struck on Saturday, Trump didn't wait long to fire off a tweet that the United States was "locked and loaded" to respond, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran.

But four days later, Trump has no timetable for action. Instead, he wants to wait and see the results of investigations into what happened and is sending Pompeo to consult counterparts in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week.

Read More Show Less

That sound you're hearing is Army senior leaders exhaling a sigh of relief, because the Army has surpassed its recruiting goal for the year.

After failing to meet recruiting goals in 2018, the Army put the pedal to the metal and "did some soul searching," said Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, to ensure that they'd meet their 2019 goal. It must have paid off — the service announced on Tuesday that more than 68,000 recruits have signed on as active-duty soldiers, and more soldiers have stuck around than they expected.

Read More Show Less

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein transformed into the Cigarette Smoking Man from "The X-Files" on Tuesday when explaining why UFO enthusiasts should avoid storming the mythical Area 51 installation in Nevada.

"All joking aside, we're taking it very seriously," Goldfein told reporters during the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space, and Cyber Conference. "Our nation has secrets, and those secrets deserve to be protected. The people deserve to have our nation's secrets protected."

Read More Show Less