McCain: Aircraft carrier program wasted $4.7 billion

By Rebecca Kheel

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday blasted the Navy’s Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier program, saying its $4.7 billion cost overrun threatens to undermine the Navy’s aircraft carrier legacy.

“We simply cannot afford to pay $12.9 billion for a single ship,” McCain wrote in an 18-page report. “The combined $4.7 billion in cost growth on these first two ships has already not only eroded the buying power for remaining ships in the Ford-class, as it leaves less available for well as other critical military capabilities.”

The criticism comes in the form of McCain’s latest “America’s Most Wasted” report, a series where he details what he sees as government waste.

The Ford-class carrier program has become a go-to criticism of McCain’s, who says it’s evidence of the overall flawed defense acquisition system. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this month, he called the program “one of the most spectacular acquisition debacles in recent memory.”

The program was first conceived in 2002 as a way to replace the Navy’s existing fleet of 1970s Nimitz-class carriers. When Congress approved the first ship in 2007, it was expected to be ready in 2015 and cost $10.5 billion.

Fast-forward to 2015, and the first ship is expected to be ready in May 2016 and cost $12.9 billion.

The second ship was originally expected to be ready in 2019 and cost $9.2 billion. It’s now slated to be done in 2024 and cost $11.4 billion.

The Navy has said time and cost increases are a result of technology and design issues when the contract was awarded, according to McCain’s report.

McCain reiterated his belief that the overrun is symptomatic of a larger problem.

“A decade of oversight reporting show that CVN 78 has been plagued by the same problems found throughout Navy shipbuilding and, indeed, most major defense acquisition programs,” he wrote, using another name for the first ship. “Unrealistic business cases, poor cost estimates, new systems rushed to production, concurrent design and construction, and problems testing systems to demonstrate promised capability. All of these problems have been made worse by the absence of competition in aircraft carrier construction.”

In his conclusion, McCain called for the Defense Department to test to make sure the first ship will have its promised capabilities and to commit to keeping the second ship within cost caps.

“Finally,” he wrote, “the department must study alternatives to the aircraft carrier to ensure we are getting the best capability while most effectively allocating our scarce resources.”

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