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Navy: Sea Trials Delayed for Aircraft Carrier Ford

Tests of shipboard systems onboard the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford are taking longer than expected, and it will delay sea trials by several weeks, the Navy said Tuesday.

"The Navy has identified a slight deterioration in the required progress on the (Ford) shipboard test program," stated a news release from the office of Sean Stackley, assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition. "As a result, the sea trial schedule will be delayed about six to eight weeks."

The Ford is currently pier side at Newport News Shipbuilding, where it is 93 percent complete. The Navy was scheduled to take delivery of the first-in-class ship on March 31, 2016. The news release said "the exact impact on ship delivery will be determined based on the results of sea trials."

The delay "provides the most affordable path to delivery," the news release said. Critics have singled out the Ford for its $12.9 billion price tag, a cost partly associated with new technology that make it vastly different from the current fleet of Nimitz-class carriers.

During a tour of the ship Tuesday, sailors expressed confidence about work on major systems, including the electromagnetic catapults that will replace the steam-powered catapults featured on Nimitz-class ships.

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Before the Navy announced the delay early Tuesday evening, the Ford's commanding officer cited a lag in progress on the technology side, but did not characterize it as serious.

"It's taken a little bit longer, really for a host of systems," said Capt. John Meier. "That's not wholly unexpected for new technology. We haven't found any deal-breakers, if you will. It's just challenges with the new technology, working those bugs, but making great progress. It's just a little slower than we would have liked."

About 1,700 sailors are now living and working aboard the ship. The full crew will number about 2,600. Newport News shipbuilders are finishing compartments and turning them over to the crew, and that process remains on schedule, the Navy said.

Following the Navy's announcement, Newport News Shipbuilding released a statement that said the Ford is a "first-in-class ship with the unique challenges associated with lead ships. We continue to work closely with the Navy to complete shipboard testing and apply lessons learned to further increase efficiencies."

Tuesday's announcement comes as the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to get an update on the Ford carrier program. The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 1.

The Armed Services panel is chaired by Sen. John McCain, who has been critical of the carrier's cost.

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