After the abrupt self-immolation of Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly, the U.S. Navy is moving quickly to eliminate all traces of their wayward and disgraced former leader. Though Modly completely mismanaged the Coronavirus impact upon the U.S. fleet and behaved atrociously, Modly’s interesting interregnum was not a total loss.
To his credit, Modly demonstrated that—at least in the case of procurement challenges—the U.S. Navy does best when responsible leaders are identified, empowered and held accountable for their actions.
The primary case in point is the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), America’s newest aircraft carrier. When Modly came into office, USS Ford was adrift, beset by Congress as little more than a “floating berthing barge”, and considered by some to be an unrecoverable disaster. To his credit, Modly refused to be a caretaker “Acting Secretary” and, following the example set by Admiral Horatio Nelson, the Acting Secretary placed himself alongside the problem and engaged.
Modly’s third official statement, or “Vector” —set down in his first month in office—dealt with the USS Ford. Modly’s edict summoned stakeholders for a meeting, detailed ambitious Ford class performance goals, and identified empowered Navy stakeholders to carry it out.
Modly’s strategy worked.
But with Modly out, will the Navy’s single-minded focus on the USS Ford start to waver? Might the U.S. Navy, in an eager effort to put the Modly era behind it, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?
Modly’s Focus On The USS Ford Worked:
The USS Ford has been ahead of schedule ever since Modly’s “Vector” went to press. In the Vector, Modly directed that aircraft compatibility testing be completed by the end of March 2020, and that Flight Deck Certification be achieved by the end of June 2020. In a surprise, the USS Ford completed aircraft compatibility testing on January 31st, and Flight Deck Certification was completed on March 20th.
Within the ship, the Lower Stage #5 and number #1 elevators were due for completion by September 2020, and they are making progress, with the Lower Stage #5 elevator set to be certified and turned over to the Navy in mid-May with the #1 elevator ready to follow likely before Modly’s original September due date.
There is still an enormous amount left to do to get the USS Ford “ready for action”. The remaining incomplete munitions elevators need to be delivered to the Navy. Final manning levels still need to be determined. Combat systems testing and certification is ongoing, but it still needs to be completed.
Ultimately, the USS Ford must demonstrate that it meets the business case the Navy used to procure the new carrier class—demonstrating that a smaller crew can launch and recover more sorties than a Nimitz class carrier for less cost.
With regards to sortie rate, the USS Ford still has a long way to go. The old Nimitz Class has demonstrated a sustained sortie generation rate of 120 launches and recoveries over a twelve-hour flight day, sustaining that level of operation for thirty days. While the Navy hopes the USS Ford will demonstrate 160 sorties a day over the same thirty days of twelve-hour flight days, the USS Ford only reached 165 sorties—in total—over the course of two days and a night for the flight deck certification.
The goal for the USS Ford’s surge sortie rate, which testers hope will be achieved and sustained over four days of continuous, 24-hour a day flying, is 270 sorties in a day, versus a proven 240 daily sorties for the Nimitz class. Once these flight numbers regularly occur aboard the USS Ford, with no breakdowns or brown-outs or power problems, then the USS Ford will be on the way to demonstrating that America’s newest carrier class is a better value and better combat asset than the legacy fleet of Nimitz class aircraft carriers.
Stick With What Works:
From the Polaris Missile System to the Aegis Combat System, the Navy has demonstrated that it works best when mission leaders are identified, empowered and then expected to perform. Again and again, the Navy has demonstrated that programs with single, empowered leaders do far better than those that don’t.
While it may be very tempting to throw out everything that the U.S. Navy’s last disgraced Acting Secretary has touched, the fact remains that Modly helped get the USS Ford back on track. Under new Navy management, continued focus on the USS Ford will pay enormous dividends in naval morale, in U.S. strategic signaling and in American confidence. A ready USS Ford, arriving as China’s aircraft carrier program struggles under cost and technology pressure, would be a way to salvage the wreckage left by what could have been one of the most influential Acting Navy Secretaries in history.