WASHINGTON — The Pentagon rejected a US Navy plan to carry out shock and survivability tests on the second ship of its new aircraft carrier design, and instead directed the service to test the first ship — even though doing so may delay the ship's first deployment by at least half a year.

In an Aug. 7 memo to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's top acquisition official, ordered the "full ship shock trial" (FSST) to be carried out on the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), first of a new class of carriers and expected to enter service in 2016.

The ship is in the final stages of construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.

The Navy had wanted to wait until the second ship, the John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), was available, but that carrier isn't expected to enter service until late 2022 or 2023. Among other issues, the Navy argued that the time taken to perform the tests on the Gerald R. Ford would delay the ship's first deployment.

Virtually all new ship designs undergo shock testing, where real explosives are set off close to the ship, which is then examined to see how well it withstood the stresses. The tests, however, are not always performed on the first ship to enter service.

When the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers entered service in the early 1990s, for example, the third ship, John Paul Jones, was the ship selected for shock tests, and more recently, the Mesa Verde, third ship of the San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks, carried out shock tests for the class in 2008.

Quoting directly, Kendall's memo directs the Navy to:

  • "Execute the FSST for the CVN 78 Class using the lead ship, CVN 78. The FSST shall be conducted prior to the initial operational deployment of CVN 78.
  • "Fully fund the CVN 78 program in the FY 2017 Navy budget submission to complete the component shock testing program and to execute the FSST as directed.
  • "Complete the Total Ship Survivability Test (TSST) using CVN 78 prior to initial operational deployment, as currently planned.
  • "Provide me the detailed plan to implement this direction at the CVN 78 Annual Defense Acquisition Board In-Process Review in December 2015."

In the memo, Kendall acknowledged the tests would impact the ship's schedule:

"The FSST and the TSST will be conducted to ensure the survivability of the CVN 78 design is understood [sic] prior to beginning operational deployments. The operational implications of any delay to CVN 78 entering the CVN deployment cycle caused by scheduling the FSST prior to initial deployment are acknowledged and were considered."

Cmdr. Thurraya Kent, spokesperson for the Navy's acquisition directorate, declined comment on the memo other than to say, "the Navy's been notified of the decision regarding Full Ship Shock Trials and will move forward as directed."

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