NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Navy’s newest carrier,  USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), is almost entirely complete and should go to sea for acceptance trials in August with delivery to follow sometime in early fall.

Soup-to-nuts testing of the ship’s combat system, including its new dual-band radar, will begin this summer, Capt. Chris Meyer, program manager for the Ford at program executive office Carriers, said May 16 at the annual Sea Air Space conference here.

Following that, the ship will undergo sea trials likely beginning in August before delivering to the Navy tentatively in late September. Findings during initial sea trials could delay delivery by an unknown duration while they are addressed, Meyer was careful to say.

“Sometimes it’s hard to predict what you are going to find,” he said. “I think the hardest challenge is…the little things that you can’t foresee that keep popping up…I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to go to sea trials probably in August and then when we deliver specifically will probably depend on how the trials go.”

The Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) after launching in 2012. Photo: Huntington Ingalls Industries
The Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) after launching in 2012. Photo: Huntington Ingalls Industries

The Ford is currently at the Huntington Ingalls [HII] Newport News Shipbuilding docks in Hampton Roads and is about 98 percent complete, Meyer said.

“All the construction is finished,” he said. “All the construction guys with welding torches, that’s all gone. The 2 percent that’s left is the final bits of the test program and, of course, when you are testing, you find the little bits you have to fix and you go fix it. That’s all that’s left.”

The 2,608 compartments on the ship are populated with equipment and furnishings and have been turned over to the 2,000 sailors now living aboard, shaking down the facilities and systems. The barber shop and laundry are operating, Meyer said.

Meyer hopes for a smooth sea trial, but the Ford is a first-in-class vessel that is introducing a number of new systems to the fleet.

One of the problematic systems that has delayed completion of the ship is its new electromagnetic aircraft launching system (EMALS) that replaces the Nimitz-class legacy steam-power catapults. To date, at least 242 dead-load launches simulating the weight of various aircraft including the F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have been successfully fired off the deck into the James River, he said.

The launches were done under ship’s power, demonstrating the entire electrical generation system. The system is government-supplied equipment that has held up Huntington Ingalls completing the ship. But the radically new system was bound to experience hiccups in early development and is now considered a glowing victory for the Navy, Meyer said.

“We look at EMALS as a real success story, given all the concern over it early in the ship’s life,” Meyer said.

Slightly behind EMALS in development is the advanced arresting gear (AAG), which was delayed two years because some of the components were found in ground testing to be “under-designed” in size, Meyer said.

“Now we’re trying to catch up because I didn’t get my equipment on the ship until two years late,” he said.

Because a dead load cannot be landed on land or a carrier deck, two sites are set up at Naval Engineering Station Lakehurst in New Jersey where rocket sleds are shot into installed AAG systems. To date there have been about 20 tests of AAG on land. This summer the Navy expects to finish testing and proving the system’s performance while the system is installed on the ship in advance of sea trials.

Testing at Lakehurst should finish up in late fall, around November, Meyer said. Testing of the AAG system installed on the Ford should finish at around the same time.

“It’s important to remember that we’re not going to start on day one launching and recovering fleet aircraft,” Meyer said.

Both systems should be operational to support flight operations–including 400-500 aircraft launches and arrestment–during the six-month shakedown cruise testing of the ship after delivery, he said.