Aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is underway for sea trials after more than a year pier-side during an extended repair period, ship spotters in Norfolk, Va., confirmed to USNI News.
According to the spotters, Ford left the pier at the Newport News Shipbuilding yard in Virginia and headed down the James River to the Atlantic Ocean just after 10 a.m. on Friday
A Navy official confirmed to USNI News the carrier had departed the shipyard for sea trials after a five-day fast cruise at the pier, testing major systems ahead of departing the pier.
“I am proud of the crew’s efforts to get USS Gerald R. Ford back out to sea,” Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer said in a statement provided to USNI News on Friday.
“The Navy has diligently tackled issues associated with this first-in-class ship and will continue to do so. All are eager to demonstrate Ford’s capacity to deliver combat power. There is more work to do, but this is a great milestone.”
The year-long maintenance period for the $13-billion carrier stretched into 15 months as the service wrestled with problems with the ship’s nuclear propulsion plant, emergent work found during the repair period and challenges with the Advanced Weapons Elevators that emerged during the period at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard.
In March, James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, told Congress, “all three of those causal factors – making the adjustments to the nuclear power plant that we noted during sea trials, fitting in all of the post-shakedown availability workload and finishing up the elevators – they’re all trending about the same time,” reported USNI News.
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The weapons elevators, in particular, have been a challange for for the Navy to integrate into the ship. The AWEs use high-powered permanent magnets that are computer-controlled. The service says the technology is sound and this issues have to do with installation of the systems.
“We’re about 75-percent done with the entire project. We’re talking about in some cases [lining up] 70-ton doors and hatches,” Geurts told USNI News this week. “It’s not a technology issue. It’s a construction completion issue in terms of getting all the doors and hatches where they need to be.”
In a statement released following an earlier version of this post, the Navy said it had certified four weapons elevators prior to Ford leaving the pier.
“After a challenging post-shakedown availability at Newport News Shipbuilding, the crew is excited to turn their hardhats in and get Warship 78 back out to sea,” Ford commander Capt. J.J. Cummings said in a statement to USNI News. “I am extremely proud of our sailors and the remarkable work ethic they have demonstrated over the last 15 months.”
The departure of Ford comes as the program has faced strong criticism from Congress.
Earlier this week, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) called Ford a “$13-billion nuclear-powered floating berthing barge” as part of a withering line of questioning to the Navy’s top acquisition official and the head of Naval Sea Systems Command. She also was critical of the carrier’s new estimated deployment date of 2024 – six years after the initial 2018 estimate.
Spencer, who bet his job with President Donald Trump that the elevators would be repaired by the time the ship left the pier, pushed back on Wednesday against Luria’s comments.
“Not one of her comments was, how can I help?” Spencer said. “I consider that disparaging. If she wants to get on board and help, we have open arms. We need everyone to realize that these are massively complex systems.”
The following is the complete Navy statement on Ford heading out on sea trials that was released after an earlier version of this post.
Newport News, Va. (NNS) — USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) got underway today for sea trials from Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding (HII-NNS) division following a 15-month pierside maintenance period.
“I am proud of the crew’s efforts to get USS Gerald R. Ford back out to sea,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “The Navy has diligently tackled issues associated with this first-in-class ship and will continue to do so. All are eager to demonstrate Ford’s capacity to deliver combat power. There is more work to do, but this is a great milestone.”
Prior to getting underway, CVN 78 conducted a multi-day, pier-side “Fast Cruise,” where the crew worked through simulated at-sea operating scenarios. Gerald R. Ford then departed NNS and headed into the Atlantic Ocean for sea trials, putting into practice lessons learned from the Fast Cruise and starting a critical phase of underway testing.
While at sea off the Virginia coast, the crew, in cooperation with NNS engineers and shipyard employees, will run through a comprehensive sequence of evolutions to test and validate systems maintained or modified during the extended maintenance period, known as a Post Shakedown Availability (PSA).
The PSA included combat systems installations, throttle control system improvements, propulsion train component repairs, and corrections to discrepancies identified during prior testing, and completion of 304 berthing spaces. The HII-NNS team also completed construction of four advanced weapon elevators (AWE), upgraded advanced arresting gear (AAG) water twisters, and fully outfitted all galley spaces.
“After a challenging post-shakedown availability at Newport News Shipbuilding, the crew is excited to turn their hardhats in and get Warship 78 back out to sea,” said Capt. J.J. Cummings, Ford’s commanding officer. “I am extremely proud of our Sailors and the remarkable work ethic they have demonstrated over the last 15 months. It is their energy, enthusiasm and grit that has gotten our ship to this point, and it will be their motivation and resiliency that will fuel our success during post-delivery test and trial.”
Sea trials are the culminating event prior CVN 78’s ship returning to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. The ship will then enter a postdelivery test and trials period to certify fuel systems, conduct aircraft compatibility testing, certify the flight deck, and test the combat systems installed aboard the ship.
As a first-in-class ship, the Navy is actively incorporating lessons learned from CVN 78 to improve the design and construction processes of future ships in the class.
Ford-class carriers will provide unparalleled advances in operational availability and flexibility to accommodate high power/energy warfighting advances, increased sortie generation, and improved survivability to defeat projected threats. With these advances, the Ford-class will be a vital asset to our National Defense Strategy in providing combat-credible naval forces to engage competitors, deter adversaries and protect U.S. security interests globally.