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Ford-class combat system completes test, first carrier further delayed

While the system test is an important milestone, the USS Gerald R. Ford -- the first of the Ford-class of aircraft carriers -- has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.

By Allen Cone
Ford-class combat system completes test, first carrier further delayed
The future USS Gerald R. Ford sails on its own power for the first time out of Newport News, Va., on April 8, 2017. The carrier is now undergoing tests off the coast of California and delivery to the U.S. Navy is expected in October. Photo by Mass Communication Spec. 2nd Class Ridge Leoni/U.S. Navy | License Photo

June 4 (UPI) -- The integrated combat management system for the USS Gerald R. Ford completed its final developmental test off the coast of California -- a major accomplishment after years of delays and cost overruns with the first of the new class of aircraft carriers.

On Tuesday, Raytheon announced a U.S. Navy unmanned self-defense test ship simulated a scenario the Ford may encounter once deployed. Two anti-ship missile surrogate targets were located, classified, tracked and engaged by the ship self defense system.

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"This successful dual-target test demonstrates the maturity of the Ship Self Defense System ICS and paves the way for operational testing to begin," Mike Fabel, Raytheon's SSDS program manager, said in a news release. "SSDS is a critical capability that enables CVN 78 to defend herself and her crew against current and emerging threats."

The system has successfully engaged three targets over the course of its first two test exercises.

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In February, the system was also tested -- also off the coast of California.

The system includes dual-band radar, cooperative engagement capability to validate and process the data, ship self defense to process the engagement data, and evolved SeaSparrow missile and rolling airframe missile.

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The system is in service on U.S. carriers and amphibious ships.

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The Ford class of ships are the first new design for an aircraft carrier since the Nimitz-class debuted in 1975.

The Ford was formally commissioned into the Navy on July 22, 2017, and is projected to be deployed around 2020, following further testing. Follow-on ships in the class currently under construction are the John F. Kennedy and the Enterprise. And the unnamed CVN 81 is planned.

The Ford is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in mid-October.

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The Navy and manufacturers have had difficulties with the advanced weapons elevators, none of which were functioning after christening.

Of the 11 elevators, two now are completed. The last one was finished in March.

"We are working right now with the fleet on what elevators do we need to have complete so they can exercise all the function in October, and for any of that work that isn't done, how we're going to feather that work in over time," Navy acquisition chief James Geurts said last week during a media briefing at the shipyard.

The new elevators are run with electromagnetic, linear synchronous motors, which allows for greater capacities and a faster movement of weapons than the Nimitz-class carrier elevators that utilize cables.

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They also eliminate the need for a "bomb farm," and reduce horizontal and vertical weapons movements to various staging and build-up locations.

The Navy also is dealing with a propulsion problem. During trials one year ago, the situation caused Ford to return to port ahead of its scheduled post shakedown. The ship's main turbine generators are driven by the steam produced by Ford's two nuclear reactors.

"We've got to train crews and get crews certified, wring out the rest of the ship, and then take all those lessons learned and ... pour them into the rest of this design" for the rest of the Ford class, Geurts said. "So our strategy of that lead ship prove out all the technologies and then rapidly reduce the time and cost and complexity to get them on follow-on ships."

In a draft of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, released Monday by House-led Democrats, the Navy is prohibited from accepting the USS Kennedy, which is designated as CVN-79, unless the carrier can deploy with F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters. The carrier is expected to be christened by the end of 2019.

The Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee met Tuesday to mark up the bill.

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Caps imposed by Congress on the Ford-class program have results in delays and the Navy accepting delivery of unfinished carriers. Because work on the ships are delayed to satisfy spending caps, seapower subcommittee members fear the overall price will increase dramatically.

"CVN-79 [USS John F. Kennedy] will not be able to deploy with F-35s when it's delivered to the Navy as a direct result of that cost cap," a committee staffer told USNI News. "So when that cost cap was imposed, the Navy traded that capability off and chose to build that back in on the back end. That's unacceptable to our members that the newest carriers can't deploy with the newest aircraft."

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