Enlarge / The USS Gerald R. Ford, underway in April during builder testing, was accepted by the Navy last month. But it still has some problems with its flight deck systems. (credit: US Navy)

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the $13 billion air craft carrier the Navy accepted in May, is not scheduled to be sent on its first full-fledged deployment for at least three years. And it's a good thing, because the Ford, now in testing, isn't ready to operate aircraft, largely because of problems with its new high-tech aircraft catapult system developed for the Navy by General Atomics (the company best known for its Predator and Reaper drones). And while it was finally completed, the new gear developed by General Atomics to capture aircraft landing on the ship's deck ended up costing three times its original price, soaring to $961 million all on its own and breaching program budgetary constraints.

The Navy has eaten those costs thanks to the "cost-plus" contract with General Atomics.

The issue with the catapult, officially called the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), was discovered in 2014. Currently, as Bloomberg's Anthony Capaccio reports,  the catapult is incapable of launching aircraft loaded with external fuel tanks. As a result, the Ford would be unable to launch F/A-18 Super Hornet and E/A-18 Growler aircraft on long-range missions—in other words, it wouldn't be able to do the thing that aircraft carriers are intended most to do. It's not an issue of throwing weight; a software problem in EMALS caused "excessive vibration" in wing tanks aboard the aircraft in testing, the Navy found.

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