Conferees forgo bans on Ford-class carrier

By Lee Hudson / November 29, 2016 at 6:16 PM

(Editor's note: A Senate Armed Service Committee aide told reporters Nov. 29 conferees did not institute any bans on the Ford-class aircraft carrier program. The updated post reflects there are certain restrictions to the program imposed by lawmakers, according to the conference report released today.)

Although the congressional defense authorization conferees did not institute any bans on the Ford-class aircraft carrier program lawmakers are making it difficult for the Navy to purchase components for the Advanced Arresting Gear program.

The only way the Navy can receive funding for the AAG program for the John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and Enterprise (CVN-80) is if the milestone decision authority determines to install the system, the MDA submits notification to the congressional defense committees, the Pentagon declares the fiscal year 2009 estimate the baseline for the program and submits unit cost and critical cost growth reports to Congress, according to the conference report submitted Nov. 30 to the House Rules Committee.

Initially, Senate authorizers focused on the AAG for the Enterprise (CVN-80) because construction is too far along for the Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) or the John F. Kennedy (CVN-79). But in conference with House counterparts, Senate authorizers agreed to rescind the ban, according to a senior Senate Armed Services Committee aide. Congressional staff briefed reporters on details of the conference bill Tuesday afternoon.

In 2014, the AAG's water twister -- a key component that is designed to absorb most of the load when the tailhook of a landing aircraft pulls against the arresting wire to come to a stop -- failed and had to be redesigned. Although this caused a two-year delay in installing the system, the problem is now fully resolved.

Conferees also agreed to pour funds into the Marine Corps' flying program in the authorization bill but are not allowing the service to purchase additional fighter aircraft that are over the numbers allotted in the president's budget request. 

"If we don't generate more aircraft they cannot solve those readiness issues," a senior committee aide told reporters.

The latest aviation mishap occurred Nov. 9 when two single-seat F/A-18 Hornets collided in mid-air during a training mission off the coast of San Diego, CA.

Several Marine Corps aviators were killed in accidents over the past year, although service officials will not openly tie the mishaps to low readiness rates. In early August, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation, directed all Marine Aircraft Wing commanders to have their squadrons stop flying for one day to focus on re-evaluating best practices.