WASHINGTON — The Navy anticipates its new aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) will be headed to sea this spring for the first time, with builder's sea trials scheduled for March before acceptance trials and delivery in April.

Navy acquisition executive Sean Stackley said Thursday that the test program is back on track after engineers fixed "a fairly significant issue" with the power distribution system, which caused a delay. The ship has now completed about 93 percent of its test profile, with a further 5 percent to be done once the ship goes out to sea for trials.

"From last summer, frankly, to the end of the year in 2016, there was a very intense effort to solve the technical [problems], to test out the technical fixes, implement the technical fixes and then get back on track with completing that portion of the test program," he said at the Surface Navy Association conference. "That work was done in, nominally, the December time frame."

"We're really nicking down to the final higher stage testing across the board," he continued. The sea trials in March and April will predominantly focus on the hull and mechanical engineering, but some combat system, air traffic control, navigation, and command, control, communications, computers and intelligence testing will also be conducted at that time.

After acceptance trials, Stackley anticipates the Navy will have to make corrections to the Ford — a normal practice for any new ship. Then, once it has delivered, the service will certify the Ford’s crew on the remaining shipboard systems still operated by Newport News employees.

"The crew is onboard. They’re manning, training and operating the systems that have been turned over to them," he said. "We owe them access to the remaining systems that have completed the shipboard testing so they can likewise do the training that they need aboard those."

The Ford won’t begin to launch and recover aircraft until its second underway period this summer, after it has been delivered to the service.

"None of the carriers go through launch and recovery of the aircraft during this phase of the program," Stackley said. But work is being done to complete shipboard tests of the next-generation launch and recovery systems — the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) developed by General Atomics. The Ford will be the first carrier with the systems onboard.

EMALS testing is about 99.5 percent complete, Stackley said. The AAG system has been more challenging, with only about 70 percent of its testing wrapped up.

At the same time, the Navy is making progress on finishing the aircraft recovery bulletins, or ARBs, a series of land-based tests at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey where live aircraft are launched and recovered with EMALS and AAG.

"We're on track to have these ARBs done and the shipboard testing done to support launch and recovery testing at sea [during the] second underway post delivery for the Ford," he said.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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