A significant manufacturing error on the U.S. Navy’s newest multi-billion dollar nuclear-powered aircraft carrier abruptly ended the vessel’s shakedown cruise at the beginning of this year, Bloomberg reports.
In January, the $12.9 billion USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) aircraft carrier experienced a propulsion system failure, during a period of intense performance tests. The shakedown cruise simulates working conditions for the vessel, which is typical for new ships. According to an internal Navy memo obtained by Bloomberg, the ship’s crew noticed a temperature increase of “92 degrees Fahrenheit above the trust bearing temperature setpoint.”
A thrust bearing is a critical component of the propulsion system of a vessel. It transfers the propulsive energy from the propeller to the ship’s hull, allowing the propeller to push the boat forward. According to the memo, “after securing the equipment to prevent damage, the ship safely returned to port.”
In other words, the +90,000 ton, nuclear-powered vessel experienced a catastrophic failure of its propulsion system. Luckily, the failure occurred on a shakedown cruise and not in enemy waters, because, the ship would have been a sitting duck. The memo said “prevent damage,” that is an indication that engineers advised the captain to shut off the propeller that was connected to the malfunctioning thrust block. This would have resulted in a tremendous reduction of speed as the vessel returned to port.
Interesting enough, the breakdown occurred in Janurary, but recently disclosed after Bloomberg uncovered an internal memo from Naval Sea Systems Command.
“Navy officials didn’t disclose the problem during budget hearings before Congress in recent weeks and House and Senate lawmakers didn’t ask about it,” Bloomberg observed.
According to the memo, Huntington Ingalls, the shipbuilding company responsible for manufacturing USS Gerald R. Ford, expressed to the Navy that the propulsion system breakdown was triggered by a “manufacturing defect” and “not an improper operation” by the crew aboard the ship. Huntington Ingalls declined to state who was responsible for the defective thrust bearing, but Bloomberg noted that an inspection of the parts inside the affected thrust block show that poorly machined gears were manufactured at GE’s facility in Lynn, Massachusetts as the “root cause.”
A representative from GE said the company halted all production of the internal components of the thrust block for the USS Gerald R. Ford, which leaves us with many unanswered questions… The memo said the parts are reportedly “out of spec,” and would need to be repaired or completely replaced. As we mentioned above, there are four propellers with four thrust blocks, which if GE poorly manufactured one thrust bearing, then, are the other three comprised as well?
During the “post-shakedown availability” phase, improvements are generally made while the ship is in drydock. Bloomberg fails to note the extent of the damage nor the turnaround time in bringing the world’s most expensive aircraft carrier back to full operational capacity. There is a reason why the Navy has kept this failure a secret for many months — because it is a complete embarrassment. If the Navy went out of their way to hide this failure, what else are they hiding from taxpayers?
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