It’s not often that the Navy does anything that surprises ComNavOps. Disappoints, yes. Surprises, no. And it’s absolutely unheard of that the Navy surprises ComNavOps in a positive way. And yet, that’s exactly what has happened – well, kind of – and not by the Navy.
Navy Times website reports that the Pentagon has instructed the Navy to conduct full ship shock tests on the carrier Ford (1). The Navy had attempted to put off the shock tests either indefinitely or until the next Ford class carrier, CVN-79, was ready which would be in 2023 or so.
You’ll recall that the Navy has thus far declined to perform shock tests on any LCS. Also, I’ve not read of any plans to conduct shock tests on the Zumwalt DDG or the America LHA although, to be fair, there may be such plans and they just haven’t been made public.
As a more general statement, the Navy has been trending towards less and less testing of ships with many tests being indefinitely deferred according to the various DOT&E reports.
This abrupt change in plan is good news. Building an entire class of ship without doing shock testing is just asking for unexpected and unwelcome findings when damage actually occurs. Waiting until several ships into a class to conduct the tests simply means that any required fixes will assuredly cost much more by having to be retrofit than if they were incorporated into the vessels during construction. This is identical to the concurrency issues that help drive up costs on the F-35. Plus, do we really want our sailors deploying on ships that may have structural and shock issues? Don’t we want our warships to be as ready and resilient as possible? Why has the Navy begun to defer shock testing? But, I digress …
While good news, the directive was totally unexpected. The Navy was firmly “committed” to not performing the test. Something changed and for the directive to come from the Pentagon means that whatever changed had to have occurred at a pretty high level. I can’t even begin to speculate who has sufficient clout and interest in the Navy to mandate this.
The directive came from the office of Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official. I had no idea he had the authority to order something of this magnitude if, indeed, he is actually the person behind this.
I’ll be keeping a close eye on this and watching to see if this affects the Navy’s plans, or lack thereof, to conduct shock testing on other ship classes.
This is a very good development for the Navy. It’s a shame that it had to be imposed rather than embraced.
(1)Navy Times, “Pentagon Directs Shock Tests on Carrier Ford”, Christopher P. Cavas,
August 11, 2015