The newest US aircraft carrier is heading for deployment after a decade of hard lessons the Navy says it should ‘never’ do again –
The US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, will deploy in early May, sailing with its escorts for the first time as a fully certified carrier strike group, a major milestone after years of problems that have delayed the ship and frustrated officials.
Ford has “fully transitioned to an in-service ship,” Capt. Brian Metcalf, program manager for Ford-class carriers, said at the Sea, Air, Space exhibition in National Harbor, Maryland on April 4.
The carrier finished an “early deployment” in fall 2022, during which it conducted “very successful” training with aircraft carriers and other ships from NATO navies, and in early April, it completed a composite training unit exercise, which was the carrier’s “final graduation exercise to deploy,” Metcalf said.
The exercise, known as a COMPTUEX, was “several weeks of working with the air wing and the battlegroup ships that she will go on deployment with. She earned all of her certifications and met all the requirements to deploy. She’s destined to deploy the first week of May,” Metcalf said, adding that it will be at least a six-month deployment.
The Navy has not said where the carrier strike group is headed, but completing the COMPTUEX means the carrier and its escorts are “prepared to provide military commanders a wide range of flexible capabilities in support of allies and partners worldwide,” including for maritime security, power projection, or strike operations, said Lt. Cmdr. Kristi Johnson, deputy public affairs officer for the Navy’s Norfolk-based 2nd Fleet.
‘We should never do that again’
The Ford will deploy a few months shy of the 10-year anniversary of its launch in fall 2013. Heralded as the first new class of carrier since USS Nimitz arrived in 1975, the Ford-class program has been marred over the past decade by a series of problems with the ship’s new technology that caused years of delays and pushed the cost to several billion dollars more than the Navy’s original estimate.
Among the most troublesome of its new technologies are the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, Advanced Arresting Gear, and Advanced Weapons Elevators — all of which are supposed to do their jobs faster and more efficiently that similar systems on older carriers. Instead, years of struggles with them and other components prompted public sparring between the shipbuilder, Navy officials, lawmakers, and even President Donald Trump, who frequently criticized the carrier’s new design and hardware.
Navy officials have acknowledged missteps in how the carrier was designed and built. Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said in 2021 that putting 23 new technologies aboard the ship “increased the risk” of delays and cost overruns “right from the get-go.”
Metcalf noted this month that the carrier was “delivered incomplete” and that the timeline for post-delivery work “was excessive, because not only did it include learning the lessons from operators but it included completing the initial construction.”
“There were a handful of new technologies that, frankly, took longer than we estimated, and this will not be the norm,” Metcalf added. “You will not see another six-year interval between the delivery of [the next Ford-class carrier] and its deployment, and we should never do that again.”
While USS Gerald R. Ford is now heading out on its first fully operational deployment, there are still questions about its hardware.
In its 2022 annual report, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester cited the “low or unproven reliability” of five systems — including the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, the Advanced Arresting Gear, and the Advanced Weapons Elevators — as “the most significant challenge to flight operations.” The report also cited a lack of data to determine Ford’s ability to defend itself against anti-ship cruise missiles, which are seen as a growing threat to carriers.
Nonetheless, the Navy has touted the ship’s progress. The final weapons elevator was completed in December 2021, with Rear Adm. James Downey, program executive officer for aircraft carriers, calling it “a significant milestone.”
The carrier deployed for the first time in September 2022, remaining under the command of the Navy rather than being assigned to a combatant commander as it would on a normal deployment. During the COMPTUEX this spring, the carrier got underway with its full air wing for the first time. As of that exercise, Ford has launched and recovered aircraft more than 14,000 times, Metcalf said.
The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System and Advanced Arresting Gear “are operating fine” and are “leveling out to be dependable systems that we can rely on,” Metcalf added.
Other assessments remain, including a week-long test event after the upcoming deployment to determine how quickly the carrier can launch and recover aircraft and further testing of the carrier’s self-defense capabilities.
“Ford has earned her combat systems qualification,” Metcalf said. “She’s earned every certification she needs to deploy, and I fully believe that the aircraft carrier, her air wing, and her battlegroup are capable of defending themselves.”
Source: Business Insider
14 April 2023 at 00:20
14 April 2023 at 05:48
Let’s hope the next member of the FORD Class will be commissioned and in service (without casualties to the ship’s systems) on time, at or under budget, and as reliable as the NIMITZ Class has been.