NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Navy’s new aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford

(CVN-78), achieved initial operational capability (IOC) in December without a public announcement issued, the Navy’s program manager for the class said.

“IOC was just recently declared and set in December of 2021, with the turnover of the last [Advanced Weapons Elevator],” Capt. Brian Metcalf, program manager of Ford-class carriers (PMS 378) said here Tuesday during the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space expo.

IOC is generally declared when a military capability or unit has reached the minimal limit to be operationally useful and deployed.

When asked why the Navy did not previously announce the IOC achievement, Metcalf said, “there’s some people who know what IOC means and some people don’t. It’s a very acquisition-specific milestone.”

“The conditions on the ship don’t really change because of IOC, so we did not make a public announcement on it,” he added.

In December, the Navy announced that the 11th and last elevator was finished and turned over to the ship‘s crew on Dec. 22 (Defense Daily, Dec. 23, 2021).

IOC comes after schedule delays and cost overruns lasting a decade as the Navy and shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] worked to integrate 23 new technologies, including the Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWEs) Metcalf mentioned, onto the vessel.

The AWEs use electromagnetic motors and are designed to move ordnance through the ship more quickly with higher carrying capacity and reduced manning, maintenance and total ownership costs compared to transitional elevator models used on the Nimitz-class carriers.

Metcalf noted the crew is currently operating the elevators and “they’re gaining proficiency for the deployment, over 17,000 individual elevator cycles have been performed by the crew in port, at sea, with weights, in different sea states. As Ford is integrated into fleet operations over the summer, we’ll continue to roll all these lessons learned into the follow ships.”

He reiterated since last year CVN-78 completed full ship shock trials over the summer, finished a six-month Planned Incremental Availability in February that partially repaired shock trial damage, conducted significant modernization and maintenance, “and successfully completed a sea trial event early in March.”

Metcalf said the Ford has now recertified its flight deck, aircraft launch and landing control system for full flight operations. He added the shock trials required only about 20 percent of the repair work compared to the Nimitz-class shock trials conducted in the 1980s, with 80 percent of this work repairable by the ship’s crew.

The ship is now conducting training and preparations for an operational deployment planned for early fall. Metcalf said on the acquisition side they know the current plan is to deploy in early fall, but not what the deployment will entail.

The Ford was first delivered in May 2017 and commissioned in July 2017.

Metcalf also provided updated highlights of the follow-on carriers.

The second new carrier, the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), is about 85 percent complete and still on track for delivery in 2024, he said. That ship will include a new radar and combat suite, the Raytheon Technologies [RTX] S-band AN/SPY-6(V)3 Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR).

EASR is a sister radar to the AN/SPY-6(V)1 Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) featured on  Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

He also reiterated the CVN-79 will deliver with the capability to host and launch F-35C Joint Strike Fighters.

Metcalf said the third in the carrier class, the future USS Enterprise (CVN-80), is 15 percent complete and is set for delivery in 2028. HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding is constructing several keel units and this summer the Navy and HII will conduct a keel laying ceremony for the ship. 

The future USS Doris Miller (CVN-81) had its first cut of steel in August 2021 and is set for delivery in 2032.