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Surprise! The Navy declared its newest carrier battle-ready last year

The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford returns from sea and heads to Naval Station Norfolk on October 30, 2019. (Jonathon Gruenke / Daily Press/TNS)

USS Gerald R. Ford—the Navy’s oft-troubled next-generation aircraft carrier—was declared battle-ready in December, but defense officials only announced it on Tuesday.

This revelation about the lead ship of its class—delivered years late and billions of dollars over cost—was matter-of-factly mentioned by Capt. Brian Metcalf, the Ford program manager, when asked about its battle status by a reporter on Tuesday at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space convention in National Harbor, Maryland.

It’s…a very acquisition-specific milestone,” he said. “The conditions on the ship don’t really change because of [initial operational capability], so we did not make a public announcement.”

The Ford has had numerous problems throughout its development, including with its propulsion system, aircraft-launching electromagnetic catapults, and innovative magnetic weapons elevators to haul bombs up to the flight deck.

“All 11 of the advanced weapons elevators have been turned over to the crew,” Metcalf said. “The crew is operating those elevators [and sailors] are gaining proficiency for the deployment.”

The Navy approved initial operational capability on Dec. 22 when the last of its elevators was certified, Metcalf said.

The Ford will “soon” get underway for trials with a full air wing on board and is on track to make its first overseas deployment in the “early fall,” Metcalf said.

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