NORFOLK, Va. – USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) successfully completed sea trials off Virginia this week, marking the successful conclusion of its first Planned Incremental Availability (PIA).
This milestone follows six months of modernization and maintenance work at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Virginia. On Feb. 28, the ship sailed home to Naval Station Norfolk, where CVN 78’s crew will begin several months of training and certification in preparation for the ship’s first deployment in fall 2022.
The first-in-class aircraft carrier entered PIA in September 2021, after completing full ship shock testing (FSST) off Mayport, Florida. Gerald R. Ford and his crew performed exceptionally well in shock testing, conducting three high-explosive events using live ammunition on June 18, July 16, and August 8.
The Navy collects data from crash tests to validate a ship’s crashworthiness and ability to sustain operations in a simulated combat environment under extreme conditions.
At the start of CVN 78’s PIA, crews conducted detailed inspections, assessing potential damage sustained during the FSST. The Navy had conducted crash tests on the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) in 1987, and used those results along with other modeling and simulations to estimate the potential impact of explosive events on the overall PIA workload. FSST-related repairs during Gerald R. Ford’s PIA turned out to be fewer than expected.
“Ford only required 20 percent of the repair work we’ve seen with TR,” said Rear Admiral James P. Downey, program manager for aircraft carriers. He added that of the required repairs related to the FSST, about 85% were carried out by the force of the ship, as opposed to work that had to be carried out by the shipyard.
“It’s an impressive testament to the ship’s design and the resilience of its crew,” said Downey, who piloted the ship on the first and third shock evolutions. Downey added that the Navy will continue to incorporate lessons learned from CVN 78’s FSST to further strengthen Ford-class follow-on ships, the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), Enterprise (CVN 80) and Doris Miller. (CVN 81).
While carrying out these repairs during the PIA, the Marine-Industry team also carried out the required modernization and maintenance on the CVN 78. Work ranged from updating Gerald R. Ford’s galley to modernizing the system Ship’s CANES (Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services) – a program the Navy has implemented across the fleet to improve shipboard computer systems and consolidate several legacy networks.
Modernization work on the Navy’s new class of aircraft carriers has been streamlined compared to work on the Nimitz-class ships. Ford’s reconfigured command and control spaces, for example, accommodate new technologies without the need to cut bridges and overhead.
“Historically, about 40 percent of modernization work on Nimitz-class aircraft carriers is done in a tear-off fashion, which involves cutting and welding,” Downey said. “The Navy specifically designed Ford with a flexible infrastructure, so you can incorporate new capabilities to improve system integration that facilitate immediate operational gains for the warfighter.”
Advanced Weapon Lifts Completed
Four months into the PIA, the Marine-Industry team handed the crew of CVN 78 the ship’s 11th and final Advanced Weapons Elevator (AWE), marking a milestone for one of the most more complex parts of the ship. Gerald R. Ford-class AWEs use electromagnetic motors as opposed to more labor-intensive hydraulic systems, allowing fewer sailors to safely move ammunition from gun stores to post piloting with unparalleled speed and agility.
Downey praised the Navy-Industry AWE team for working tirelessly both in port and at sea to complete the lifts last year.
“The Marine-Industry team has provided opportunities for hundreds of craftsmen, technicians and engineers, working around the clock – across multiple ongoing periods – to bring these advanced systems online and operational,” said said Downey. He added that multiple vendors provided a steady stream of needed materials and engineering expertise, allowing the ship’s strength to support seamless integration of onboard production efforts across multiple teams.
“The end game is always operational readiness,” Downey said, adding that CVN 78 is on track to begin checkups and move on to follow-up duties.
Work ups and Deployment
In the coming months, the USS Gerald R. Ford will prepare for its next deployment. The ship will embark its air wing, CVW-8, and begin series of system qualification tests, flight deck certification, three phases of air warfare training and a readiness assessment. operational combat systems.
Ford’s commanding officer, Captain Paul Lanzilotta, said the crew were ready to resume their accelerated pace of training and operations, essential to bring the ship to operational readiness.
“The crew of this mighty warship had a buzz of excitement, even while docked and performing drills overnight during Fast Cruise. Gerald R. Ford’s sailors were ready to go back to sea. They know their job and engage in a continuous cycle of learning and improvement. The sea trials demonstrated, beyond doubt, that the PIA was a success, enabling live interaction on the high seas with hundreds of improved systems and processes. We have also increased our confidence in our formation, which relies on the inherent lethality of this extremely capable combat platform.
The PIA also represented CVN 78’s transition from the Navy’s Gerald R. Ford Class Program Office (PMS 378), which oversees the construction of Gerald R. Ford-class ships, to the Carrier Program Office. aircraft carriers in service (PMS 312) responsible for the sustainment, maintenance and modernization of aircraft carriers in service for most of their 50-year lifespan. Captain Charles Ehnes, PMS 312 program manager, agrees that the crew’s efforts and growing expertise in the ship’s onboard systems helped fuel the ship’s momentum during the PIA.
“For the past six months, the Marine-Industry team has been focused on on-time delivery of Ford out of NOC availability,” Ehnes explained. “Certainly Ford is unique among carriers in the country, so some of the maintenance requirements present unique challenges. But the approach of this PIA, as is the case with all carrier fleet PIAs, has a basic commonality. The mission is to provide preparation. This is what we do.