The US Navy is reviewing plans to detonate underwater explosives near its first Ford-class aircraft carrier despite pleas from commanders to postpone the tests and get the $12.9 billion ship delivered to the overstretched fleet, American officials said Monday.
The "shock trials" will help the Navy determine whether the ship can endure hostile explosions and properly integrate the carrier's weapons suite while under attack, Warrior Maven reported Monday, citing service officials.
The Navy and Pentagon have butted heads over whether or not the tests should be run now or postponed for six years. The Navy asked US Defense Secretary James Mattis not to conduct the tests until 2024, when the second Ford-class ship is slated to be delivered.
There weren't any technical forms sent by the US Navy to the Office of the Secretary of Defense asking specifically to skip the tests. Instead, the Navy's budget request for fiscal year 2019 simply didn't include a line item expense for full-ship shock trials, Bloomberg reported.
The Pentagon's Office of Testing and Evaluation (OT&E) weighed in by saying that with several brand-new systems on the USS Ford, skipping the trials simply wouldn't be prudent. "I think we have to know if those systems continue to work in a combat environment," Defense Department OT&E Director Robert Behler said in February.
While the policy debate can seem pedantic, the timing of the trials plays an important role in when the ship gets deployed, according to the Government Accountability Office, which reported in 2015 that full-ship shock trials "could delay deployment of the carrier 1-6 months."
The service has argued that any delay of the USS Ford's deployment schedule — which is already far behind and "one of the most spectacular acquisition debacles in recent memory" — hinders even further the Navy's ability to fulfill the key Congressional mandate of maintaining an 11-carrier surface force.
OT&E has countered by saying that the Navy stopped meeting this mandate five years ago anyway, after the carrier USS Enterprise was decommissioned in 2012. Regardless of whether the shock trials happen sooner versus later, the testing office has contended, the Ford-class ship is likely to continue to face technical and construction challenges that will delay its full deployment.