Gerald R. Ford carrier expected to begin sea trials this week

Hugh Lessig
Contact Reporterhlessig@dailypress.com

The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford is expected to head to sea this week for its first round of sea trials, a top Navy officer said Monday.

The $12.9 billion next-generation warship had been poised to pull out Tuesday, but weather concerns scuttled those plans, sources said.

"I would expect the ship to get out to sea in the near term and probably this week," said Vice Adm. Tom Moore, who heads Naval Sea Systems Command.

Moore said the Navy could take delivery of the ship in late April or early May.

Moore spoke with reporters after a panel discussion at the Sea-Air-Space exposition being held at the Gaylord National Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

The Ford has suffered through series of delays, much of it due to growing pains with new technology. That includes electromagnetic catapults and aircraft arresting gear that uses water-twister technology.

But now the Ford is showing progress just as the Trump administration wants to proceed full speed ahead with expanding the fleet, which includes an extra aircraft carrier.

Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are built exclusively by Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

The carrier has successfully concluded a "fast cruise," a simulated underway period where the ship remains pier side, Moore said.

The initial round of at-sea tests are known as builder's trials, where the ship's basic systems are put through rigorous checks. Then Ford will go through a brief period of downtime, the length of which depends on what is found during builder's trials, Moore said.

The next step is acceptance trials, with Navy inspectors on board. Following that is delivery.

"If things go as expected, we'll get the ship delivered in the next month or so," Moore said. "We'll get it commissioned this summer. That's my hope."

Commissioning is more of a ceremonial issue and depends on schedule availabilities, he said. For example, the Navy would have to coordinate with ship's sponsor Susan Ford Bales and other high-level officials before setting a date.

In a separate presentation at Sea-Air-Space, another Navy officer described sea trials for Ford as "imminent." That was according to Capt. Doug Oglesby, the program manager for the next two Ford-class ships, the John F. Kennedy and the Enterprise.

"They are right on the cusp," Oglesby said.

The carrier was originally scheduled to deliver in September 2015. Delays, along with cost overruns, prompted the ire of some in Congress. But costs have since stabilized, and Navy officials say they have worked through problems on critical systems.

Meanwhile, Oglesby said the Navy was pleased with progress on the Kennedy and Enterprise. The Kennedy's price tag is $11.4 billion, down from the Ford's $12.9 billion. The Kennedy will be built with 18 percent fewer production hours than Ford, a savings on the order of 9 million man hours, he said.

Kennedy is about 27 percent complete and will be 50 percent erected by June, Oglesby said. It will replace the USS Nimitz, which will be inactivated in 2025, he said.

Advance work has already begun for the new Enterprise. The Navy expects to award a construction contract for that ship in 2018, Oglesby said.

Sea-Air-Space is billed as the the premier naval exposition in the U.S. It attracts some 11,500 visitors, about 300 exhibitors and representatives from nearly 70 countries. Every major defense contractor is represented.

The exposition continues through Wednesday.

Lessig can be reached by phone at 757-247-7821.

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