The U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) started a year-long post-shakedown availability/selected restricted availability (PSA/SRA) upgrade and maintenance period on Saturday.

CVN-78 first arrived at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ [HII] Newport News Shipbuilding at Newport News, Va. on July 14. During the PSA/SRA, HII will install remaining combat systems, finish deferred work, and correct the remaining discrepancies identified during sea trials and the ship’s shakedown.

The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) conducts post-delivery testing and trial operations in June 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) conducts post-delivery testing and trial operations in June 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Navy said the “critical path” or largest set of events in the PSA/SRA will be building the advanced weapons elevator and upgrading the Advanced Arresting Gear.

After finishing this process, the Ford will conduct additional trials and testing, including full-ship shock trials, before moving on to its first deployment. The Navy noted the carrier will concurrently work towards deployment while conducting its initial operational testing and evaluation.

The Ford was delivered to the Navy on May 31, 2017 (Defense Daily, June 1, 2017).

Rear Adm. Brian Antonio, program executive officer for Aircraft Carriers, said the ship’s crew has been diligently conducting post-delivery testing and trial operations to identify construction and design issues following ship delivery.

“They have been extremely effective in identifying any issues early, which helps us address them prior to returning to the fleet,” Antonio said in a statement.

This PSA/RSA period is starting after CVN-78 successfully finished its post-delivery test and evaluation period, which entailed operating at sea for 81 days with eight independent steaming events. The Ford successfully completed fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft integration and compatibility testing, air traffic control center certification, JP-5 fuel system certification, daytime and nighttime underway replenishment capability demonstration, ship’s defensive system demonstration, Dual Band Radar testing, and propulsion plant operations.

The Navy said the Ford completed almost 750 shipboard aircraft launches and recoveries while planning about 400.

Rear Adm. Roy Kelley, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, added that since CVN-78’s commissioning the ship “has performed exceptionally due to a combination of innovative engineers, skilled craftsmen and professional and dedicated Sailors.” 

“We have been planning for the Ford’s return to Newport News since it was delivered last year. This availability is the next important milestone in the life of the ship. We have worked closely with our Navy partners to identify first-in-class issues that came along during the test and evaluation program and look forward to resolving them,” Bill Smith, Newport News vice president of Fleet Support Programs, said in a statement

Last month a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report highlighted the USS Gerald R. Ford as an example of common delays in shipbuilding, taking delivery of the ship two years late and $2 billion over the initial budget.

CVN-78 had its schedule slip by 25 months. The report said the Navy routinely accepts delivery of ships with a large amount of uncorrected deficiencies, conflicting with policy that states all ships should be fully missions capable with all contractual responsibilities finished before delivery, aside from things like ship outfitting (Defense Daily, June 12).

The GAO noted that the business case for CVN-78 was predicated on unrealistic schedule and cost estimates that did not account for all the risks in the development of the carrier’s 13 critical technologies plus lead construction of the first ship in its class. The Navy previously estimated the Ford would require fewer labor hours than the two last Nimitz-class carriers even though lead ships normally have challenging technology development and construction issues.