DOT&E: USS Ford's Self-Defense Systems Require More Testing

USS Ford (file image courtesy USN)

Published Feb 1, 2020 12:17 AM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Defense Department's procurement watchdog has issued its annual report on military acquisition programs, including the closely watched USS Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carriers. The USS Ford has received considerable scrutiny from DOT&E in the past, and though the vessel is now at sea and working on flight qualifications, the office's evaluation remains much the same. 

DOT&E's core concern centers on the maturity of the new technologies installed aboard Ford. "Poor or unknown reliability of systems critical for flight operations, including newly designed catapults, arresting gear, weapons elevators, and radar, could affect the ability of CVN 78 to generate sorties," the office wrote. "[Ford] is unlikely to achieve the Sortie Generation Rate (SGR, or number of aircraft sorties per day) requirement. Unrealistic assumptions [in the requirement] . . . ignore the effects of weather, aircraft emergencies, ship maneuvers, and current Air Wing composition on flight operations."

In addition, off-ship testing of the self-defense systems for the Ford class has revealed new vulnerabilities, according to DOT&E. In trials aboard a decommissioned destroyer, the Ford's electronic warfare system, multi-function radar and cooperative engagement capability (a tracking, data fusion and distribution system) exhibited "deficiencies and limitations" that would "reduce the overall self-defense capability of the ship," DOT&E wrote.

The full extent of these limitations may not be known, DOT&E said, as the Navy has only conducted one of four planned tests aboard the Self-Defense Test Ship and has not resourced the remaining three.

USS Ford is currently under way off the U.S. East Coast conducting aircraft trials. The primary goal of the voyage is the at-sea testing of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) - two newly-developed systems that have attracted DOT&E's scrutiny in the past. Notably absent on this voyage is the F-35C, the Navy's next-generation fighter, which cannot deploy aboard the carrier until several retrofits have been completed to handle its needs. 

According to DOT&E, the delays in the USS Ford's construction and repair have pushed her first deployment out to FY2023 - five years later than originally expected, but one year earlier than recent forecasts