When the U.S. Navy asked valve suppliers to design new maintenance free, zero leakage valves that would reduce the manpower needed to maintain the Gerald L. Ford, it did not anticipate just how long it would take to design and test the products.
Part of the challenge stemmed from the fact that construction began before the design of the ship was complete, meaning that valves couldn’t even be engineered until the design requirements were known. Matt Mulherin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding, the defense contractor in charge of the project, said workers had to install spacers – essentially valve-shaped placeholders – for the missing pieces as they outfitted the hull sections.
Ken Ketterman of Hampton Rubber, which supplies parts including valves to Navy ships said, "The testing requirements under the Navy gets very involved, and the components can be made from very, very exotic materials that can be hard to get your hands on."
Consequently, the cost of the ship, which is to be christened later in 2013, is higher than budgeted, according to the Government Accountability Office. Since 2008, the price of the massive vessel has increased from $10.5 to $12.3 billion. However, the operational expense savings over the 50 year lifespan of the craft is expected to exceed the overruns.
All aspects of the ship have been re-designed to fit the goal of maintaining the ship with fewer military personnel. Everything from the lighting on the island to the hundreds of valves has been designed to make it possible to sail with 800 fewer sailors and 400 fewer air wing personnel, with an estimated $5 billion saving.