The U.S. Navy’s first Ford-class aircraft carrier is on track to head out to sea for acceptance trails (AT) before Memorial Day, the acting Navy Secretary said Thursday.

Depending on the results of the trials for the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the Navy expects a “quick turnaround after that,” Sean Stackley told reporters after giving a speech at the U.S. Naval Institute’s annual meeting.

Sean Stackley, Acting Secretary of the Navy. Photo: U.S. Navy.
Sean Stackley, Acting Secretary of the Navy. Photo: U.S. Navy.

The Ford completed its first set of builder’s sea tests on April 14 which lasted for seven days. The ship is built by prime contractor Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] Newport News Shipbuilding. Following successful acceptance trials the Navy will accept delivery of the ship and commission it into the fleet.

Stackley said the crew is already onboard operating the systems and that the Ford is “at the naval station. She’s loaded out, so the steps to go from acceptance trials to delivery, it’s going to be contingent upon what are the critical starred card type of deficiencies, if any, that are identified during acceptance trials.”

A starred card deficiency is the kind that significantly degrades a ship’s ability to perform an assigned mission, impacts crew or equipment safety, or prevents the proper operation of the ship.

Stackley added that the ship came out of the builder’s trials strong and “we’re correcting those deficiencies that we need to correct prior to going into acceptance trials.”

“I’m pretty confident right now in a good AT and a good turnaround to deliver the ship,” Stackley continued.

In his speech, the acting secretary spoke strongly in favor of the plans to split the Pentagon’s undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) into two separate positions, as directed in the Fiscal Year 2017 defense reauthorization act (Defense Daily, May 3).

He applauded Congress’ decision to approve the plan and said picking the right leaders is very important, with the planned undersecretary for research and engineering set to lead technology advances in the Defense Department.

“We need leaders, not technocrats,” Stackley said. He acknowledged that one size does not fit all in the DoD research and development acquisition process but that the department should tailor the processes so they do not always start from pre-milestone A.

Stackley also said the Navy and defense budget “simply must grow” to meet U.S. defense needs and the goal of a 355-ship fleet within decades. He noted the U.S. must also decide what new ships should be in the future fleet and highlighted the importance of submarines, large surface combatants, and returning to a 12 carrier fleet.

The secretary said while the fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill did increase the Navy’s budget, they will have to keep fighting to keep it at that level in the FY 2018 budget and then push for reform and increases starting in the FY 2019 budget.

Stackley was reluctant to comment on President Trump’s recent comments denigrating the electromagnetic aircraft launching system (EMALS) on the Ford-class carriers in favor of the outdated steam-powered catapults (Defense Daily, May 11).

“I’m not going to get into a Q&A regarding comments the president made.”

Stackley added that “we have not briefed the president on the Ford-class program. He did go down to Newport News and visited the ship and was onboard the ship. So I wasn’t present for that visit; I don’t know what his source of information was with regard” to the EMALS system.