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The US Navy says its new carrier only needed a fraction of the repairs required the last time a flattop did 'shock trials' 34 years ago

Benjamin Brimelow   

The US Navy says its new carrier only needed a fraction of the repairs required the last time a flattop did 'shock trials' 34 years ago
  • In summer 2021, the US Navy put an aircraft carrier through shock trials for the first time since 1987.
  • Afterward, USS Gerald R. Ford only needed a fraction of the repairs as the last carrier to do shock trials.

On March 1, the US Navy said its newest carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, had completed its first Planned Incremental Availability, a six-month modernization and maintenance process intended to give the carrier its final touches before its first deployment.

Ford entered its PIA after completing full-ship shock trials last summer. Those trials involved detonating three 40,000-pound explosives in the water around Ford, marking the first such tests the Navy has conducted on a carrier since 1987.

The Ford, which was commissioned in 2017, has struggled through years of delays and cost overruns, caused in part by the array of new technology and systems installed aboard the first-in-class carrier.

But the Navy says Ford's shock trials and its PIA — as well as the first deployment by the Navy's F-35C aboard another carrier — are good news, indicating that Ford is on track for its first deployment.

Trials and modernization

Shock trials are intended to test the survivability of the carrier and its systems. The Navy said the Ford performed very well, needing only 20% of the post-trial repair work that needed to be done on USS Theodore Roosevelt, the last US carrier to go through shock trials.

"From a severity standpoint, I'd like to say we had zero catastrophic failures on the ship, zero situations where we had flooding, zero fires," Capt. Paul Lanzilotta, Ford's commanding officer, said after the final trial.

What's more, 85% of the repairs Ford needed were done by the carrier's crew instead of shipyard workers. "That's an impressive testament to the design of the ship and the resiliency of her crew," said Rear Adm. James P. Downey, the Navy's program executive officer for aircraft carriers.

During the PIA period, Ford received finishing touches to ensure its layout and electronics are up to date, including updates to the ship's galley.

The Navy said modernization work on Ford was more streamlined than on its Nimitz-class predecessors because the new carrier was designed with "flexible infrastructure" that reduced the amount of cutting and welding required to install new systems. About 40% of the modernization work on Nimitz-class carriers consisted of cutting and welding, Downey said.

Perhaps the best news is that Ford's eleventh and final Advanced Weapons Elevator was completed, tested, and certified, finally ending a long, arduous, and high-profile part of Ford's development.

Powered by electromagnetic motors instead of hydraulic systems, the elevators require fewer sailors to operate and can transport more ordnance from weapons magazines to the flight deck "with unparalleled speed and agility," the Navy says.

The elevators are one of 23 new technologies aboard Ford that improve its capabilities over Nimitz-class carriers, allowing it to conduct faster aircraft sorties and operate with a smaller crew.

'Ready to fight'

Ford ended its PIA with sea trials off the coast of Virginia, demonstrating "that the PIA was successful, enabling live interaction on the high seas with hundreds of upgraded systems and processes," Lanzilotta said.

On February 28, Ford sailed to its home at Naval Station Norfolk, where the carrier and its crew will undergo several months of training to prepare for their maiden deployment, which is expected to happen this fall.

The training will include system qualification tests, flight-deck certification, three phases of air-warfare training, and an operational-readiness evaluation of its combat systems. Ford will also embark its air wing in the coming months.

Ford represents the future of the US Navy's carrier fleet, and it will sail with the "air wing of the future."

The exact size and makeup of that air wing are still being determined, but its centerpiece will be the carrier variant of the stealth Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, which completed its first operational deployment in February.

Despite losing an F-35C in a failed landing during operations in the South China Sea, the deployment showed the jet's "seamless integration" into the air wing, Rear Adm. Dan Martin, commander of Carrier Strike Group 1, told reporters in February, adding that F-35C carrier squadrons could even get bigger in the future.

With the air wing coming together and the carrier's on-board systems up to date, Ford is finally preparing to deploy with the fleet more than four years after being commissioned.

"She's absolutely ready to fight," Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said during a recent visit to the carrier. "We're very excited as she continues to do her workups for deployment, and I have every confidence in the world that she's going to be ready to go."


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