- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - Sea trials for the Navy’s next generation aircraft carrier could be delayed up to two months, although it’s unclear if that will push back a planned March delivery date, officials said Wednesday.

The future USS Gerald R. Ford is being built by Newport News Shipbuilding and is about 93 percent complete. The Navy had planned to start testing the ship at sea in early 2016, but now says its schedule will be pushed back at least six weeks.

The Navy won’t know if a previously scheduled March 31 delivery date will change until the ship’s sea trials are complete.

“The pace of completing testing for the large volume of new and complex systems on FORD has been slower than planned and has caused the 6-8 week delay in sea trials,” Cmdr. Thurraya S. Kent, a Navy spokeswoman, said in an email.

Kent said the delay won’t affect when the ship can be deployed. That date is still uncertain because the Defense Department recently ordered that the Ford undergo a series of shock trials, which test how the ship performs when explosives are set off near it.

Navy officials have said the shock trials could delay the Ford’s operational availability by up two years, depending on how the ship performs during those tests. Until the Ford is ready for service, the Navy will continue to operate with 10 aircraft carriers instead of the 11 Congress has mandated.

About 1,700 sailors are already working on the ship each day and 280 are living aboard it. Kent said the issues causing the delay in sea trials are being managed within budget and below the $12.88 billion cost cap.

The Ford is the first in a new line of aircraft carriers that will be joining the fleet that includes a series of technological advances.

The Ford will use an electromagnetic aircraft launch system instead of steam to send jets into the air at a faster pace, among other things. Other technologies will allow the Ford to operate with nearly 700 fewer crew members.

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Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis

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