USS George Washington (CVN 73), the nation’s sixth Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, ushered in the second half of its service life on May 25, when it completed its refueling complex overhaul (RCOH) at Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), in Norfolk, Virginia.
Following four days of demanding sea trials off the East Coast, NNS redelivered a refueled George Washington to the U.S. Navy complete with modernized combat systems and infrastructure to support the Navy’s air wing of the future.
During sea trials, sailors, shipbuilders, industry experts, and government representatives collaborated to test the full range of the ship’s operating systems, executing high-speed maneuvering evolutions and stressing new technology and equipment to ensure the ship is ready to deploy. George Washington is scheduled to return to U.S. 7th Fleet in 2024 and, in coordination with the Government of Japan, serve as the forward-deployed Naval Forces-Japan (FDNF-J) aircraft carrier, replacing USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). This will mark the second time the ship has served as the FDNF-J aircraft carrier, arriving in 2008 as the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be forward-deployed to Japan. Ronald Reagan relieved George Washington in 2015.
Prior to George Washington’s arrival in Japan, Ronald Reagan is scheduled to relocate to Bremerton, Washington, where the ship will conduct a docking planned incremental availability period at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, receiving repairs and upgrades after nearly a decade of service in the Western Pacific.
George Washington’s RCOH Process
Refueling complex overhauls are performed at the mid-point of a ship’s 50-plus-year lifespan, incorporating upgrades to propulsion equipment, infrastructure, and combat support systems. George Washington entered its RCOH on Aug. 4 2017, under a $2.8 billion contract with NNS.
Rear Adm. James P. Downey, Program Executive Office Aircraft Carriers, oversaw recent years of the George Washington’s extended 69-month RCOH process, addressing challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, supplier interruptions, and competing requirements for resources.
“This has been a challenging RCOH on many fronts, and the team executing the RCOH including the shipbuilder, GW crew, and many other suppliers and Navy commands teamed to redeliver this aircraft carrier during the pandemic by re-engineering our approach to working with suppliers and the shipyard and accelerating problem solving on the deck plates. It became crucial to empower decision-making at every level of the process, with the goal of delivering this ship with enhanced combat effectiveness, including technology to accommodate the F-35C Lightning II,” said Downey. “Over the last 6 months the combined shipyard, ship’s force, Supervisor of Shipbuilding Newport News, Type Commander, and In-service Aircraft Carrier Program Office, PMS 312, team have produced admirable schedule adherence…rising to the challenge to redeliver George Washington to the fleet in time to transition to FDNF, bringing full fifth-generation fighter capability to dissuade our peer to peer competitors.”
Capt. Mark Johnson, manager of the PEO Aircraft Carriers In-Service Aircraft Carrier Program Office, explained that delivering George Washington’s RCOH depended on leveraging integrated digital tools and lessons learned from the Navy’s previous RCOH, which concluded on USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) in May 2017 at Newport News.
“George Washington’s RCOH represents 26 million man-hours of work, that involved refitting and installing a new main mast, updating the ship’s shafts, refurbishing propellers, and modernizing aircraft launch and recovery equipment,” said Johnson. “The work enhanced nearly every space and system on the carrier, from the hull, screws, and rudders to more than 600 tanks; thousands of valve, pumps, and piping components; electrical cables and ventilation; as well as combat and aviation support systems. Beyond the critical need to defuel and refuel the ship’s two nuclear reactors and to repair and upgrade the propulsion plant, this work touched every part of the ship—and challenged every member of the planning team and ship’s force.”
As Commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic (CNAL), Rear Adm. John F. “Oscar” Meier is the Type Commander responsible for USS George Washington and her crew. “This redelivery demonstrates not just the essential teamwork required between the shipyard, contractors, the George Washington crew and CNAL staff, but also the opportunity to start a new chapter in the ship’s life,” said Meier. “CNAL is proud to welcome the ship back into the operational fleet as it prepares to make its way to the Pacific to become the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier in Japan. The crew has endured much over the last several years and we, as a U.S. Navy family, look toward to the future as George Washington embarks on her next journey.”
“Getting our warship redelivered and back out to sea to take its place as the premier CVN in the world’s greatest Navy is a direct result of the tenacity and grit displayed by our warfighters,” said Capt. Brent Gaut, USS George Washington’s commanding officer. “To our incredible Sailors, contractors and shipyard workers: I am proud of you, and I sincerely hope you feel an extreme sense of pride as well, especially in light of our once-in-a-lifetime achievement. You all share an equal part in the legacy of getting our warship back into Navy service at a pivotal moment in our great nation’s history. Our collective intent is to show the world what we can do, and what we must do in support of America’s strategic and operational objectives.”
Downey embarked on the ship during its Sea Trials and was impressed by both the crew and the new technology.
Looking to the future crews who will serve aboard the ship, Downey said, “When George Washington completes her service life in 2048 or beyond, we know that many of the sailors who will serve on her final deployment have yet to be born. And yet we also know who they will be: They’ll be forged in the same shared legacy carried by these sailors today—and driven by the same love of country, of ship, and of the mission.”