September delivery projected for aircraft carrier Ford

Hugh Lessig Contact Reporter

e next-generation aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford is scheduled to begin sea trials this summer and should be delivered to the Navy by September, Navy leaders said Tuesday.

The first-in-class ship, weighing in at $12.8 billion and crammed with new technology, should deploy for the first time in 2021 after undergoing further tests.

Written testimony submitted Wednesday for a Senate hearing on Navy shipbuilding programs contained a full schedule for the Ford, which is nearing the end of construction at Newport News Shipbuilding. The 28-page document was jointly signed by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley, Navy Vice Adm. Joseph P. Mulloy and Marine Lt. Gen. Robert S. Walsh.

Over the years, the ship’s delivery has been a moving target. At a Senate hearing last fall, Pentagon officials said the ship would deliver in March 2016.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee sea power panel didn’t discuss the Ford carrier program at any length. Stackley in his opening remarks said the Navy has successfully controlled costs on the Ford. It is working to drive down costs on the second Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy.

Stackley told the panel that sea trials for the Ford are expected to begin in June — his written testimony listed July — and delivery should happen in September. That mostly dovetails with an earlier estimate from Naval Sea Systems Command, which projected sea trials in June and delivery in late August/early September.

A post shakedown period is planned for 2017. The ship will undergo shock trials in fiscal year 2019, followed by deployment in 2021.

Challenges for the Navy and shipyard began with construction, which kicked off before the ship’s design was completed. Then they worked to install and test new technology, experiencing challenges along the way. The carrier program has drawn criticism from the likes of Sen. John McCain, who chairs the armed forces committee, but costs have been under control for several years, Stackley said.

As of March, the ship is 97 percent complete, according to testimony.

In a related development, a major new system on the Ford that has prompted concern from the Navy has passed a test its manufacturer calls “a major milestone.”

The carrier employs an advanced arresting gear — using water-based technology — to bring jets to a smooth stop. Last March, a Navy admiral disclosed that the system needed a redesign that put it behind schedule.

Although installed on Ford, the advanced arresting gear is still undergoing land-based testing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Lakehurst, N.J.

Last week, the advanced arresting gear successfully caught its first aircraft, an F/A-18A Super Hornet, according to manufacturer General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems.

It had already conducted more than 1,200 successful “dead load” tests at the base’s Jet Car Test Site, according to Dean Key, a company official.

“Now, with the arrestment of an aircraft, we take an important step in verifying the dynamic controls and system performance as a whole,” he said.

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