Navy’s US$13B carrier sows doubt that it can defend itself  

Bloomberg News

The combat system for the Navy’s newest and costliest warship, the US$13 billion Gerald R. Ford, “has yet to demonstrate that it can effectively” defend the aircraft carrier from anti-ship missiles and other threats, according to a new assessment by the Pentagon’s testing office. Mixed performance by missile interceptors, radar and data dissemination systems on a testing vessel limited the ability to destroy replicas of incoming weapons even though sensor systems “satisfactorily detected, tracked and engaged the targets,” according to the report obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of its release. The carrier built by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. is still dogged as well by the “poor or unknown reliability” of its aircraft launch and recovery systems, according to the five-page report. And recent shock tests to assess the vulnerability of key systems “identified several design shortfalls not previously discovered,” the testing office said. It said “the Navy has already identified several survivability” opportunities to improve the four-carrier class of ships “against underwater threat engagements.” The persistent shortcomings undercut the Navy’s hope to showcase the Ford as the first in a new class of nuclear-powered carriers that can project U.S. power globally and are more combat-capable, reliable and affordable to operate then the Nimitz class it’s replacing. The latest assessment raises new questions for Pentagon officials and lawmakers about how fully the Navy will demonstrate improvements before the Ford is deployed in mid-September on its first patrol with aircraft and escort vessels. The report, which contains unclassified and “controlled unclassified” information and has been circulated to the Navy, found that “only a limited assessment” of the combat system’s effectiveness is possible at this point. It said Nickolas Guertin, the new head of the testing office, plans to send Congress an interim report on the Ford’s self-defense capabilities by Sept. 30. The Naval Sea Systems Command said in a statement that it “welcomed the opportunity to review and provide comment on” the assessment draft. “Overall,” it said, recent post-delivery testing of the Ford “indicate the risk of system reliability impacting mission accomplishment is decreasing.”

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