The Navy has asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to delay shock testing on the super carrier Gerald R. Ford, a traditional process ships undergo to determine how well they can withstand an attack.
This decision creates tension between the Navy’s goal to have an 11-carrier fleet ready to deploy as soon as possible and the Pentagon’s warning against deploying the Ford for initial combat duty until it has undergone tests. Mattis must balance the need for rigorous weapons testing with the demands of his national defense strategy.
The Ford, currently scheduled for its first deployment in 2022, has already endured several years of uncertainty and delays.
Last June, the U.S. House of Representatives considered striking a clause in the National Defense Authorization Act that requires ships to endure shock tests before their first deployment. The proposal was supported by fleet schedule planners who did not want to delay deploying the ship.
“There are four major new systems on this aircraft carrier” for launching and landing aircraft, detecting aircraft and missiles and moving ordnance in elevators from deep inside the vessel, Robert Behler, the Pentagon’s new chief of testing, told Bloomberg. “I think we have to know if those systems continue to work in a combat environment,” he said.
During shock testing, the ship endures a series of detonated underwater charges to check the resilience of key systems. The results are used to judge vulnerabilities and design changes that may be needed.
Ford “is making progress, however, reliability of the newly designed catapults, arresting gear, weapons elevators, and radar, which are all critical for flight operations, have the potential” to limit Ford’s abilities, Behler wrote in a memo to Mattis, according to Bloomberg. The survivability of these systems will remain a question mark until they undergo full rounds of testing, he added.
The Navy still needs to spend approximately $780 million on the Ford to conduct shock testing, and still needs to finish deferred work and correct deficiencies, according to a July report from the Government Accountability Office.