The Navy is pressing forward with the Ford-class aircraft carrier’s massive 26 month test and technology integration test despite criticisms about cost-growth and poor technical reliability coming from watchdogs and analysts.
Navy developers have expressed confidence in the platform and its many new technologies despite criticism from lawmakers, analysts and government watchdog groups such as the Government Accountability Office and the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation.
Regarding the cost-growth criticisms, Navy officials emphasize that $3.3 billion of the ship’s $12.8 billion in costs are one-time, non-recurring engineering costs because the USS Ford is the first in a new class of aircraft carriers. Officials say cost-saving methods and lessons learned during the Ford’s construction are now being applied to the building of the next Ford-class carrier, the USS Kennedy.
The massive 77,000-ton USS Gerald R. Ford, christened this past November and slated for commissioning in 2016, is the first in a series of planned next-generation Ford-class aircraft carriers slated to replace the existing Nimitz-class fleet over the coming decades. Ford-class carriers are planned to serve through 2110, Rear Adm. Tom Moore, Program Executive Officer, Carriers, told Military.com
The testing plans for the Ford are slightly prolonged and more labor intensive because the first-in-class ship includes a wide range of new systems and technologies -- such as a new dual band radar, nuclear reactor, arresting gear, electronics, automation and an electro-magnetic catapult system – which need to be tested and integrated onto the ship before it enters service, Moore said.
The tests will examine and integrate all these technologies with a mind to how they work effectively with one another. Military.com posted a complete story on the scope of the testing here.
The Ford-class carriers are being built with three times the electrical power generating capacity compared to Nimitz-class carriers, Moore said. The USS Ford will have four 26-megawatt generators bringing a total of 104 megawatts to the ship. This helps support the ship’s developing systems such as its Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, and provides power generation capacity for anticipated future systems such as lasers, rail-guns or other kinds of high-powered ship defenses and weapons, Moore added.
The ships are engineered for with a redesigned island, slightly larger deck space and new weapons elevators in order to achieve a 33-percent increase in sortie-generation rate. Essentially, the new platforms are built to launch more aircraft and more seamlessly support a high-op tempo with a large number of ongoing aircraft missions or sorties.
The new weapons elevators allow for a much more efficient path to move and re-arm weapons systems for aircraft. The elevators can take weapons directly from their magazines to just below the flight deck, therefore greatly improving the sortie-generation rate by making it easier and faster to re-arm planes, Moore said.