Senators Urge Mattis Not to Delay Shock Test on Costly Carrier

  • McCain, Reed tell defense chief to stay the course on test
  • Navy wants to delay tests on $12.9 billion USS Gerald R. Ford

The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is seen underway on April 8, 2017 in Newport News, Virginia.

Photographer: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ridge Leoni/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

The leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee urged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis not to delay “shock testing” intended to determine how well its new $12.9 billion aircraft carrier can withstand an attack.

Mattis is weighing a Navy request to delay the test on the USS Gerald R. Ford for at least six years, until delivery of a second carrier in the $45.7 billion program. The test was ordered in 2015 by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work and is scheduled to occur in 2019. The USS John F. Kennedy, second carrier in the three-ship program, isn’t scheduled for delivery until September 2024. The Navy hopes to have the Ford ready for initial combat duty in 2022.

This year’s defense policy bill gave Mattis the discretion to waive the test, which would help the Navy’s push to have an 11-carrier fleet ready to deploy as soon as possible. Republican committee chairman John McCain of Arizona and ranking Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island are urging Mattis to stick to the current test schedule for the Ford, known as the CVN 78. They both pushed for the tests in 2015.

Read about the Navy’s request to delay shock tests on the new carrier

“Conducting full ship shock trials on CVN 78 will not only improve the design of future carriers, but also reduce the costs associated with retrofitting engineering changes,” the senators wrote in a letter to Mattis on Thursday. “We continue to believe that reliability issues with unproven new technologies on CVN 78, including the catapults, arresting gear, radar and weapons elevators, as well as reliance on electricity rather than steam to power key systems, generate a great deal of war-fighting cost and schedule risk.”

Mattis spokeswoman Dana White didn’t immediately respond when asked about the senators’ letter.

Mattis’s decision will be an indication of how he balances the need for rigorous weapons testing against delivering on his national defense strategy, which calls for deploying a more lethal force. In its proposed budget for fiscal 2019, the Navy removed funding for the test.

“Deploying CVN 78 and potentially fighting without this testing gives us pause,” the lawmakers wrote, so “it remains our view that a full ship shock trial should be conducted prior to the ship’s first deployment.”

The USS Gerald R. Ford, built in Newport News, Virginia, by Huntington Ingalls Industries, was commissioned by President Donald Trump in July.

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