The Navy sent another carrier on a rare trip to the high north. Here’s how sailors kept it going in harsh conditions around Alaska

USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in Gulf of Alaska
USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Gulf of Alaska after exercise Northern Edge 2019, May 25, 2019.

  • US Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt sailed to Alaska in May for exercise Northern Edge.
  • The carrier took part in the exercise in 2019, when it became the first carrier to do so in 10 years.
  • The trips reflect the Navy’s increasing focus on the Arctic and its efforts to get used to operating up there again.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hot, long days and dangerous working conditions are typical for Petty Officer 2nd Class Austin Moore, whose job is helping launch and recover aircraft from the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The carrier routinely deploys to the Indo-Pacific region, where the warm weather adds to the heat on the deck and steam from the catapults. Moore’s complex duties only get harder when the carrier does nighttime flight operations.

When the flattop arrived in the Gulf of Alaska in early May for Northern Edge 2021 – a two-week exercise involving 15,000 sailors, soldiers, Marines, and airmen – Moore looked forward to wrapping up a six-month deployment in unfamiliar surroundings, bundling up against the cold for operations in a region where the sun barely sets at this time of year.

F/A-18 fighter jets take off from USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrer
Two F/A-18 Super Hornets launch from USS Theodore Roosevelt, April 29, 2021.

“Having that opportunity to have a daylight all day, we were always on our game, always a step ahead,” Moore told Insider.

The carrier’s trip reflects the Navy’s increasing presence in and around the Arctic, prompted by increasing Chinese and Russian activity there.

Lawmakers, including Rep. Elaine Luria, a retired Navy commander, have also sought to increase the US military’s focus on the region.

Last month, Luria and other legislators introduced a bill that would require the Pentagon to complete an Arctic security assessment and develop a five-year plan to give the services the resources necessary for specific strategic needs in the region.

“The Arctic is where the future of military conflict and free trade will be decided,” Luria said in a statement.

Building up ‘core knowledge’

Crew on flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt flight deck
Sailors watch flight operations aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt during Exercise Northern Edge 2021, May 7, 2021.

Building sailors’ muscle memory for operations in those increasingly accessible waters has important implications for the fleet.

“We haven’t had sailors operating since in these areas since the late ’80s, since the end of the Cold War, so a lot of that core knowledge is no longer there, except for those of us who have done it,” said Lt. Alex Morgan, the Theodore Roosevelt’s assistant navigator.

“So it’s really important that we capture these experiences” and share them across the service, added Morgan, who plans the carrier’s movements. “One of the nice things is that nobody stays in one place very long, so we’ll be in ships and squadrons across the fleet within just a couple of years.”

Sailors load missile on fighter jet on USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier
Sailors move ordnance across the flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt during Exercise Northern Edge 2021, May 7, 2021.

The last 16 months have been tumultuous for the crew of Theodore Roosevelt.

A COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 lead to the death of one chief petty officer and sidelined the carrier for weeks following the ouster of its popular commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modley resigned after his remarks to the crew during a visit drew widespread backlash.

The carrier returned to San Diego in summer 2020, but that homecoming was brief. Now, after a “double pump” deployment, the carrier and about 3,000 crew members are switching homeports to Bremerton, Washington.

The flattop will undergo maintenance at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, including an upgrade to enable the flight deck to handle the F-35C.

The operations off Alaska capped a chaotic period for the crew and offered them a new set of challenges: cold weather, low visibility, stiff winds, long supply lines, and marine wildlife.

“We started all that planning when we’re operating off the coast of Guam, which was obviously a vastly different experience – warm temperatures, high humidity,” Morgan said. “Within the space of the week, we went from sweating at every step to bundled up and seeing our breath on the bridge. So it was definitely a mentality shift.”

E-2C Hawkeye launches from USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier
An E-2C Hawkeye launches from USS Theodore Roosevelt during Northern Edge 2021, May 3, 2021.

Theodore Roosevelt also participated in Northern Edge in 2019, the first time a carrier had done so in 10 years. Morgan and others said they leaned on the playbook from that experience.

“In 2019 the carrier was more limited,” said Morgan, who participated in the exercise for the first time this year. “We had to be closer to shore. We had more flexibility this time because our pilots were certified to operate farther from land.”

While the Navy trains to operate around marine wildlife, crew members said they were surprised by how often they spotted whales and dolphins.

“We had to be very cognizant of where we were operating and keep a good lookout,” Morgan said.

Water temperatures ranged from the high 30s to low 40s Fahrenheit, markedly different from the 80-degree water temperatures around Guam, said Capt. Eric Anduze, Theodore Roosevelt’s commanding officer. Keeping sailors warm became a priority, including shortening rotations to help “maintain awareness.”

“When you live in a floating metal box, it really permeates through the skin of the ship and makes everything extremely cold,” Anduze said.

Sailors signal F/A-18E fighter jet on USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier
Sailors signal an F/A-18E Super Hornet before it launches from USS Theodore Roosevelt during exercise Northern Edge 2021, May 4, 2021.

A person in water that cold can only survive about 20 minutes, said Ensign Jorge Miguel, a bridge officer of the deck. That leaves an extremely small window to maneuver the carrier and the resources necessary for search and rescue if someone goes overboard.

“You don’t want to wait 20 minutes,” Miguel said. “By then it’s too late.”

A lingering weather system created days of low visibility, reducing the ability to launch aircraft, Anduze said.

Operations slowed but didn’t stop, and that low visibility made extra vigilance necessary, Miguel said.

“If you’re not able to see out the window and see any contacts out there, at that point you’re relying on radars to see what you have in front of you and make the best decision with what you have available to you,” Miguel said.

Poor weather also caused problems for pilots one day during the exercise, forcing them to divert to an Air Force base inland, Morgan said. With the pandemic ongoing, the crew did not want to strand pilots overnight.

USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier near Alaska
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Gulf of Alaska during Exercise Northern Edge 2021, May 7, 2021.

“One of the unique things about being an aircraft carrier is you can always move the airport, but it was so thick that day, we had to delay recovery by several hours,” Morgan said.

“That was a lot of work between our air department [and] our meteorologists on board. We were working with the strike group and just trying to figure out where we can position the ship so that we can recover those aircraft before sunset,” Morgan added.

While longer days meant more light on the flight deck, Moore, who was aboard for the 2019 exercise, said they also made it more difficult to rest. Sleep deprivation is a major readiness problem for the Navy.

For Miguel, the experience presented a challenge partly because it was brand new, but he said novelty shouldn’t be an obstacle.

“Whether we’re in Alaska or, say, Fifth Fleet or Seventh Fleet, it doesn’t really matter. We should be able to execute and use to training that we’ve gone through to execute accordingly,” he said.

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Satellite photos show China’s new aircraft carrier coming together quickly and reveals more about its design

Chinese aircraft carrier
The Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, departs Hong Kong, Tuesday, July 11, 2017.

  • Satellite imagery shows China has made significant progress on its new carrier in recent weeks.
  • A CSIS analysis of the latest imagery said that certain aspects of the design can now be confirmed.
  • Different from its predecessors, the ship has a flat flight deck and catapults.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China has made significant progress on its newest aircraft carrier in recent weeks, according to an analysis of the latest satellite imagery.

High-resolution satellite photos taken in May by Maxar Technologies and analyzed by experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies showed the carrier taking shape at Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, but there was still a lot of work to be done.

Satellite image of China's third carrier under construction
A Maxar Technologies high-resolution satellite photo of China’s third aircraft carrier, an unnamed vessel simply known as Type 003, under construction at Jiangnan Shipyard. (Click to enlarge)

A satellite photo taken by Maxar about six weeks later and analyzed by CSIS shows China has nearly finished work on the carrier’s flight deck, sponsons, and basic superstructure, the Washington, DC-based think tank reported.

Satellite imagery of China's third carrier under construction
A Maxar Technologies high-resolution satellite photo of China’s third aircraft carrier under construction. (Click to enlarge)

Work on the ship, which will be China’s third aircraft carrier but its first modern flattop, began in 2018.

In a Department of Defense report on the Chinese military published the following year, the Pentagon said that the vessel “will likely be larger and fitted with a catapult launch system.” Recent satellite imagery confirms this earlier assessment.

CSIS estimates the length of the new ship to be approximately 318 meters, making it larger than both of its predecessors, Liaoning and Shandong. And the superstructure, also known as the island, is smaller, leaving more room on the flight deck for a larger air wing.

The carrier’s flight deck is flat, and a catapult-assisted launch system is clearly visible in the latest photos, though it is unclear if the ship will use steam catapults like the US Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers or electromagnetic ones like those on the newer Ford-class carriers. Either way, catapults will be a substantial improvement over previous designs.

Catapults allow for a more diverse air wing of not just fighters but also early warning aircraft. They would also allow China’s fighters to reach their potential. Both the Liaoning and Shandong feature ski jump designs that limit how much weaponry and fuel China’s heavy J-15 carrier-based fighter jets can launch with, reducing the overall combat power of the carriers.

Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier
Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier

China’s newest carrier, a conventionally powered flattop, is expected to be comparable to the US Navy’s decommissioned Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carriers, though it is likely to have more advanced onboard systems than the ships first fielded in the 1960s.

In June, the CSIS experts that have been following this carrier’s development predicted that China would not be able to launch the ship until 2022, but in their latest progress report, they wrote that “recent imagery suggests that the vessel may be ready to launch later this year.”

“We didn’t expect it to be moving quite so quick,” Matthew Funaiole, a senior fellow with the China Power Project at CSIS, told Insider.

“It looks like they have moved a little faster than we expected,” he said. “They are moving at quite the clip. At this point, I would not be surprised if it ends up being put into the water sometime later this year.”

Funaiole and other experts at CSIS wrote in their June report on the new aircraft carrier that the vessel is expected to “be a formidable addition to China’s navy and allow it to more effectively project power” when it finally enters service, which could be years after launch.

China has been rapidly churning out new, more capable ships, such as its new carrier, but there is more to building a great power navy than just the quantity and quality of the ships in the fleet.

China has made considerable strides as it builds a carrier force, especially with its newest carrier, but it will likely take time to develop the carrier operations knowledge and experience necessary to use its carriers effectively. The Chinese navy has had aircraft carriers for less than a decade.

China is expected to build additional aircraft carriers, potentially pursuing a nuclear-powered carrier like the 11 flattops operated by the US Navy, though that remains to be seen.

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How China’s navy went rogue to get its first aircraft carrier

liaoning aircraft carrier
China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning during a military drill in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018.

  • China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is a total refit of an incomplete Soviet cruiser-carrier.
  • China’s navy acquired the carrier in the late 1990s, but it did so without approval from Beijing.
  • After a bit of subterfuge and years of delays, the Liaoning was launched in 2012.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China was proud to launch its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in 2012. This vessel was a refit of an incomplete Soviet Kuznetsov-class cruiser carrier.

However, the story of how China got that ship in the first place may as well be a comedy – because the carrier was actually a rogue acquisition for the Chinese military against the wishes of the government in Beijing. And it was undertaken by a basketball player who claimed he wanted to build a floating casino.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy first became interested in acquiring an aircraft carrier in 1970, when China was still on bad terms with both the Soviet Union and the United States. However few concrete steps were taken, because the cost and complexity of such an endeavor far exceeded the PLAN’s limited capabilities during the Cold War.

The Soviet Navy did deploy its first carriers in the 1970s: Kiev-class vessels that could launch Yak-38 Forger jump jets of limited effectiveness. By the 1980s, the Soviets began construction of two more promising Kuznetsov-class carriers. These had a “ski jump” ramp, allowing more conventional – and much higher-performing – Su-33 Flanker fighters to take off from it.

Like the earlier Kiev class, the Kuznetsov was technically an “aircraft-carrying cruiser” due its powerful armament of 12 P-700 Granit antiship missile systems.

Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning towed through Bosphorus Strait
Tugboats and pilot ships guide the half-built aircraft carrier Varyag under the Bosphorus Bridge, November 1, 2001.

This technicality was important, as “aircraft carriers” proper weighing more than 15,000 tons (which is to say, virtually all aircraft carriers today) were not legally permitted by the Montreux Convention to transit from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean via the Bosporus Straits.

However, the fall of the Soviet Union left the second vessel in its class, the Varyag, only two-thirds complete in Ukraine, lacking its armament and electrical systems. Construction ceased in 1992, and the cash-strapped Ukrainian government did its best to pawn off the 55,000 tons of inoperable metal rusting in its Mykolaiv shipyard. Russia, India and China all passed.

A two-part series in the South China Morning Post in 2015 revealed the machinations behind how the carrier ended up in Chinese service anyway, two decades later.

It turns out the PLA Navy did want the Varyag – the team sent to inspect it recommended purchasing it! But the government in Beijing was worried that acquiring a carrier might increase tensions at a time when it was seeking to further open itself to Western investors.

Instead, in 1996 a group of PLA officers including intelligence chief Gen. Ji Shengde approached Xu Zengping, a former PLA basketball star who had become a successful businessman arranging international events.

The cabal’s proposal: to have Xu purchase the carrier as a private citizen, ostensibly to serve as a casino so as to avoid undesirable scrutiny. Then the PLAN could collect it for its own use once the political winds were more favorable.

This cover story is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Remember those Kiev-class carriers mentioned earlier?

Two of them are now moored in China, serving as amusement parks. The Minsk was actually purchased by a consortium of video-game arcade owners in Shenzhen for $4.4 million and has since been moved to Nantong, north of Shanghai. And the original Kiev? Now a floating hotel in Tianjin.

Russian aircraft carrier Varyag Liaoning in China
The Russian-built aircraft carrier Varyag in Dalian, in China’s Liaonin Province, April 23, 2011.

However, the more modern Kuznetsov-class Varyag was undoubtedly of much greater practical interest for the PLAN than either of those ships.

Xu was down with the scheme and borrowed the equivalent of $30 million in Hong Kong dollars from a friend to help fund the venture – the first expense of which was to create a $6 million shell company in Macau called Agência Turística e Diversões Chong Lot Limitada, in order to maintain the fiction. (Macau was still in its last years as a Portuguese colony at the time.)

In January 1998, Xu arrived in Ukraine and met with the shipyard owners. After four days of negotiations, in which enormous bribes were offered and 50 bottles of 124-proof baijiu liquor were consumed, he reached an agreement to purchase the carrier for $20 million – well below the cost of a single jet fighter today. He wasn’t able to make the payment until a year later, with a $10 million extra late fee tacked on.

Some international observers smelled something fishy in the arrangement – Xu’s company did not actually have a gambling permit in Macau, nor a listed phone number or address. Ironically, however, a Jane’s analyst interviewed by The Washington Post at the time stated it was “farfetched” that the PLA Navy would try to operate the Varyag due to its decrepit and incomplete condition.

By June 2000, everything was ready to go. The carrier’s four engines were packed in grease seals (they had yet to be installed), several tons of blueprints were sent overland to China by truck, and a Dutch towing company was ready to tug the 306-meter-long vessel all the way back to China. What could go wrong?

Ever been stunned by the towing fee after your car breaks down far from home? Imagine that, but around 500 times worse. Why 500? Because that equals the roughly 500 days the Liaoning was stuck being towed in circles off Istanbul, after the Turkish government denied it passage to the Mediterranean via the Bosporus Straits.

Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning docked in port
The Liaoning, left, berthed at the People’s Liberation Army Navy base at Dazhu Shan, March 1, 2013.

The Turkish maritime minister argued that should there be a mishap towing the 306-meter-long carrier – which could not maneuver or move on its own power – it might spin around and block the Bosporus straits to all shipping, or run into one of the bridges connecting the two halves of Istanbul.

The straits are only 700 meters wide at their narrowest point and require at least six major course corrections to navigate. Hundreds of ships had suffered accidents there in the past. Curiously, the Chinese appear to have perceived the Turkish refusal to be in retaliation for China’s opposition to the NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia the previous year.

The Liaoning spent 16 months racking up $8,500 a day in towing fees. Finally, Beijing had a change of heart on the matter, and stepped in on August 2001, promising major concessions on tourism to persuade the Turks to let the Varyag pass.

Finally on November 1, in an operation involving more than two dozen tug and emergency vessels, the Varyag was towed through the Bosporus without incident, and traversed the Dardanelles the next day. The hard part was over.

Except for the sea storm with 60-mph winds that struck the rudderless vessel off the island of Skyros two days later, causing it to snap its tow lines. It took two more days to recover the runaway carrier. Tragically, a Portuguese sailor fell to his death while helping reconnect it to its tugs.

Once under power, a normal vessel could have taken the shortcut through the Suez Canal and straight on back to China via the Indian Ocean. But the canal would not accept powerless vessels such as the Varyag, so it had to cruise all the way around Africa, Vasco de Gama-style, chugging along at a brisk jog of 7 mph.

Chinese J-15 fighter jets waiting on the deck of the Liaoning aircraft carrier
China has two carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, but a third one is on the way.

In March 2002, the carrier finally arrived at the port of Dalian in Liaoning province, which would lend the carrier its name in Chinese service. Three years later, it was put into a dry dock to allow for an extensive refit process, including sandblasting away all the rust and restoring and installing the engines in 2011.

The PLAN intended to operate the vessel as a pure carrier, rather than as a cruiser-carrier hybrid, so the shipbuilders didn’t bother with the enormous anti-ship missile systems. They instead confined its armament to a trio of short-range HQ-10 air-defense missile launchers and a few close-defense guns. The vessel’s primary weapon, of course, would be its complement of 24 J-15 Flying Shark fighters.

The Flying Sharks are domestic copies of the Russian Su-33 fighter, a prototype of which was also acquired from Ukraine in 2001. The Liaoning also flies six Z-12F anti-submarine helicopters, four airborne early-warning variants and two Z-9 rescue choppers.

The Liaoning was commissioned on September 25, 2012, and the first J-15 landed on it a month later. A home-built carrier based upon the Liaoning will soon put to sea this year; those blueprints must have proved useful.

The Liaoning is hardly equal to a US supercarrier – in addition to its smaller air wing and lack of a nuclear power plant, its steam turbines are prone to breaking down and the ski-jump deck limits the fuel and weapons load its fighters can carry.

However, it afforded China a leap forward in its naval construction program – which now includes five more carriers in the coming decade of increasing planned capability. According to Xu Zengping, a naval officer told him that the Varyag saved China 15 years of research and development.

J-15 fighter jets are seen on the flight deck of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning
Chinese J-15 fighter jets on the flight deck of the Liaoning.

So was Xu richly rewarded for his initiative? He was rewarded with bills: $120 million in all in Xu’s estimation, forcing him to sell his decadent home in Hong Kong and spend all of the intervening years paying his lenders back.

You see, Gen. Ji was jailed in 2001 for his involvement in a massive smuggling ring in the city of Xiamen – so the cabal of officers that set Xu up for the task was no longer around to see that he was compensated.

Beijing did pay for the $20 million value of the carrier – but argued that it couldn’t cover other costs because he lacked receipts. Apparently, invoices – or fapiao in Mandarin – don’t come standard with bribes paid to Ukrainian businessmen. And, as one quickly learns in China, you always need the official fapiao.

So if there’s a moral to the story of the Varyag, it’s not to expect too much gratitude for your good deeds … and always keep the receipt.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States.

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How a cheap Swedish submarine ‘ran rings’ around a US aircraft carrier and its sub-hunting escorts

USS Ronald Reagan
USS Ronald Reagan.

  • In 2005, the US Navy’s new aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, sank after being hit by torpedoes.
  • This didn’t happen in combat but during a war game pitting a carrier task force, and its anti-submarine escorts, against a Swedish sub.
  • That sub, HSMS Gotland, pulled off that feat despite being a relatively cheap diesel-powered boat.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In 2005, USS Ronald Reagan, a newly constructed $6.2 billion aircraft carrier, sank after being hit by multiple torpedoes.

Fortunately, this did not occur in actual combat, but was simulated as part of a war game pitting a carrier task force including numerous antisubmarine escorts against HSMS Gotland, a small Swedish diesel-powered submarine displacing 1,600 tons. Yet despite making multiple attacks runs on the Reagan, the Gotland was never detected.

This outcome was replicated time and time again over two years of war games, with opposing destroyers and nuclear attack submarines succumbing to the stealthy Swedish sub.

Naval analyst Norman Polmar said the Gotland “ran rings” around the American carrier task force. Another source claimed US antisubmarine specialists were “demoralized” by the experience.

How was the Gotland able to evade the Reagan’s elaborate antisubmarine defenses involving multiple ships and aircraft employing a multitude of sensors? And even more importantly, how was a relatively cheap submarine costing around $100 million – roughly the cost of a single F-35 stealth fighter today – able to accomplish that? After all, the US Navy decommissioned its last diesel submarine in 1990.

Swedish submarine Navy
Sweden’s HMS Gotland with the USS Ronald Reagan in the background.

Diesel submarines in the past were limited by the need to operate noisy, air-consuming engines that meant they could remain underwater for only a few days before needing to surface. Naturally, a submarine is most vulnerable, and can be most easily tracked, when surfaced, even when using a snorkel.

Submarines powered by nuclear reactors, on the other hand, do not require large air supplies to operate, and can run much more quietly for months at a time underwater – and they can swim faster while at it.

However, the 200-foot-long Swedish Gotland-class submarines, introduced in 1996, were the first to employ an Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system – in this case, the Stirling engine. A Stirling engine charges the submarine’s 75-kilowatt battery using liquid oxygen.

With the Stirling, a Gotland-class submarine can remain undersea for up to two weeks sustaining an average speed of 6 mph – or it can expend its battery power to surge up to 23 mph. A conventional diesel engine is used for operation on the surface or while employing the snorkel.

The Stirling-powered Gotland runs more quietly than even a nuclear-powered sub, which must employ noise-producing coolant pumps in their reactors.

The Gotland class does possess many other features that make it adept at evading detection.

It mounts 27 electromagnets designed to counteract its magnetic signature to Magnetic Anomaly Detectors. Its hull benefits from sonar-resistant coatings, while the tower is made of radar-absorbent materials. Machinery on the interior is coated with rubber acoustic-deadening buffers to minimize detectability by sonar.

The Gotland is also exceedingly maneuverable thanks to the combined six maneuvering surfaces on its X-shaped rudder and sail, allowing it to operate close to the sea floor and pull off tight turns.

Swedish navy submarine HMS Gotland in San Diego
HMS Gotland in San Diego Harbor during Fleet Week San Diego, October 1, 2005.

Because the stealthy boat proved the ultimate challenge to US antisubmarine ships in international exercises, the US Navy leased the Gotland and its crew for two entire years to conduct antisubmarine exercises. The results convinced the US Navy its undersea sensors simply were not up to dealing with the stealthy AIP boats.

However, the Gotland was merely the first of many AIP-powered submarine designs – some with twice the underwater endurance. And Sweden is by no means the only country to be fielding them.

China has two diesel submarine types using Stirling engines. Fifteen of the earlier Type 039A Yuan class have been built in four different variants, with more than 20 more planned or already under construction.

Beijing also has a single Type 032 Qing-class vessel that can remain underwater for 30 days. It believed to be the largest operational diesel submarine in the world, and boasts seven Vertical Launch System cells capable of firing off cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

Russia debuted with the experimental Lada-class Sankt Peterburg, which uses hydrogen fuel cells for power. It is an evolution of its widely produced Kilo-class submarine. However, sea trials found that the cells provided only half of the expected output, and the type was not approved for production.

However, in 2013 the Russian Navy announced it would produce two heavily redesigned Ladas, the Kronstadt and Velikiye Luki, expected by the end of the decade.

Other producers of AIP diesel submarines include Spain, France, Japan and Germany. These countries have in turn sold them to navies across the world, including to India, Israel, Pakistan and South Korea.

Submarines using AIP systems have evolved into larger, more heavily armed and more expensive types, including the German Dolphin-class and the French Scorpene-class submarines.

Indian Navy Scorpene-class submarine Karanj
The Indian Navy’s third Scorpene-class submarine, Karanj, at its launch in Mumbai, January 31, 2018.

The US Navy has no intention to field diesel submarines again, however, preferring to stick to nuclear submarines that cost multiple billions of dollars. It’s tempting to see that as the Pentagon choosing once again a more expensive weapon system over a vastly more cost-efficient alternative. It’s not quite that simple, however.

Diesel submarines are ideal for patrolling close to friendly shores. But US subs off Asia and Europe need to travel thousands of miles just to get there, and then remain deployed for months at a time. A diesel submarine may be able to traverse that distance – but it would then require frequent refueling at sea to complete a long deployment.

Remember the Gotland? It was shipped back to Sweden on a mobile dry dock rather than making the journey on its own power.

Though the new AIP-equipped diesel subs may be able to go weeks without surfacing, that’s still not as good as going months without having to do so. And furthermore, a diesel submarine – with or without AIP – can’t sustain high underwater speeds for very long, unlike a nuclear submarine.

A diesel sub will be most effective when ambushing a hostile fleet whose position has already been “cued” by friendly intelligence assets. However, the slow, sustainable underwater speed of AIP-powered diesel submarines make them less than ideal for stalking prey over vast expanses of water.

These limitations don’t pose a problem to diesel subs operating relatively close to friendly bases, defending littoral waters. But while diesel submarines may be great while operating close to home – the US Navy usually doesn’t.

Navy submarine
US Navy fast-attack submarine USS Asheville and US 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge in the Philippine Sea.

Still, the fact that one could build or acquire three or four diesel submarines costing $500 to $800 million each for the price of a single nuclear submarine gives them undeniable appeal.

Proponents argue that the United States could forward deploy diesel subs to bases in allied nations, without facing the political constraints posed by nuclear submarines. Furthermore, advanced diesel submarines might serve as a good counter to an adversary’s stealthy sub fleet.

However, the US Navy is more interested in pursuing the development of unmanned drone submarines. Meanwhile, China is working on long-enduring AIP systems using lithium-ion batteries, and France is developing a new large AIP-equipped diesel submarine version of its Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine.

The advent of cheap, stealthy and long-enduring diesel submarines is yet another factor placing carriers and other expensive surface warships at greater risk when operating close to defended coastlines.

Diesel submarines benefitting from AIP will serve as a deadly and cost-effective means of defending littoral waters, though whether they will can carve out a role for themselves in blue-water naval forces operating far from home is less clear.

Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including the The National Interest, NBC News, and War is Boring. He holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China. You can follow his articles on Twitter.

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The US Marine Corps’ first F-35C squadron is now fully ready to fight from the Navy’s aircraft carriers

Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 fly F-35Cs
Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 fly F-35Cs.

  • The first Marine Corps F-35C squadron has achieved full operational capability.
  • This status means the squadron is fully prepared and equipped for deployment and combat.
  • The F-35C is specifically built for aircraft carrier operations.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The first US Marine Corps F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter squadron has achieved full operational capability, meaning it is now fully prepared to wage war from Navy aircraft carriers, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing said in a statement last week.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, nicknamed the “Black Knights,” is the first Marine Corps F-35C squadron to reach this status.

The Marines have traditionally flown the F-35B, a short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant that can fight from airstrips or amphibious assault ships. Although the F-35B has not yet achieved full operational capability, this jet has been active.

The F-35B deployed for the very first time in March 2018 aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, and later that year, a Marine Corps F-35B became the first to fly into combat when it took off from the USS Essex to carry out strikes against the Taliban.

Marines with the service's first F-35C squadron conducting flight training
Marines with the service’s first F-35C squadron conducting training.

The C variant of the fifth-generation stealth fighter, however, is designed to operate aboard US Navy carriers. The jet can carry more fuel and is built for catapult launches and fly-in arrestments.

Based out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, the “Black Knights” received the Marine Corps’ first F-35Cs on January 21, 2020.

In December, the squadron successfully met the minimum requirements to deploy aboard carriers and support combat operations, a status known as initial operational capability. At that point, the fighter squadron was technically considered officially ready for combat.

That initial operational capability enabled “VMFA-314 to deploy the F-35C onto aircraft carriers where they will be able to support combat operations anywhere in the world,” the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing said at the time.

“They are now full up round and bring the incredible 5th generation capability to 3rd MAW,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general Maj. Gen. Christopher Mahoney said in a statement, adding that “they will deploy as part of a Carrier Strike Group next year.”

A Marine Corps F-35C assigned to VMFA-314
A Marine Corps F-35C assigned to VMFA-314.

VMFA-314 operations officer Maj. Derek Heinz said “many hours were spent maintaining aircraft, launching and recovering aircraft in Miramar, at other military facilities, and aboard the ship to conduct the training required to meet these goals.”

“The Marines of VMFA-314 have gained confidence in fighting this aircraft and feel confident we can do so in combat if called upon,” Heinz added.

In the meantime, the squadron is continuing to make necessary preparations for future deployments through tailored ship’s training availability, which includes communication, medical, flight, and shipboard drills.

The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is the Corp’s largest aircraft wing, and, as the recent statement on VMFA-314’s full operational capability milestone explained, it “remains combat-ready, deployable on short notice, and lethal when called into action.”

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The US Navy practiced blasting an aircraft carrier for the first time in 34 years. Here’s what it’s testing.

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald Ford during shock trials
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford during shock trials in the Atlantic Ocean, June 18, 2021.

  • The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, went through shock trials on June 18.
  • Shock trials are meant to test how a warship’s systems handle the stresses of combat.
  • It’s the first time a US carrier has undergone these tests since the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1987.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

This month, the US Navy released images and footage of its newest carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, going through shock trials 100 miles off the Florida coast.

The tests, done with the crew aboard, involved detonating a 40,000-pound explosive off of Ford’s starboard side. The explosion was so strong that it registered 3.9 on the Richter scale – roughly equivalent to a small earthquake.

It was the first of three such trials for the Ford – the next two will feature detonations closer to the ship – and was the first time a US carrier has undergone these tests since the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1987.

While the US Navy is debating the usefulness of shock trials, the fact that they are being done on the Ford indicates that the Navy is serious about maximizing the ship’s survivability against 21st-century threats.

Old tests for new threats

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald Ford during shock trials
Ford during shock trials on June 18, 2021.

Shock trials are meant to test how well a ship’s systems and components hold up during combat and are not uncommon.

USS Jackson and USS Milwaukee, both littoral combat ships, underwent shock trials in 2016.

The amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde and the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, both of which carry aircraft, went through shock trials in 2008 and 1990, respectively. USS Arkansas, a nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser, did them in 1982.

What is unusual is the fact that the Navy conducted the shock trials on the first Gerald R. Ford-class carrier in service. The Navy typically conducts shock trials on later vessels of a given class.

Navy amphibious ship Mesa Verde explosion during shock trials
A 10,000-pound charge rocks USS Mesa Verde off the Florida coast, August 16, 2008.

The decision to subject Ford to the trials may be motivated by the Navy’s desire to ensure that the carrier is combat-ready the moment it begins its first deployment, which is expected to be in 2022.

US Navy officials have acknowledged the increasing prevalence of modern anti-ship weaponry, particularly China’s DF-21D “carrier killer” and DF-26 “Guam killer” missiles.

A recent Congressional Research Service report on the Ford-class cited China as an adversary “with highly capable anti-ship missiles” that raised questions about “the prospective survivability” of carriers in a conflict.

The same report also noted that live tests had shown that Ford “has limited self-defense capability” against anti-ship cruise missiles.

New systems and capabilities

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald Ford during shock trials
Ford during shock trials, June 18, 2021.

The Ford also has a number of new systems and capabilities that aren’t on its Nimitz-class predecessors and haven’t faced combat conditions.

A new weapons elevator system, designed with modern munitions in mind, is meant to reduce how long it takes to arm aircraft.

The new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System uses linear induction motors instead of steam to power the carrier’s catapults, ensuring faster, smoother, and more efficient takeoffs for fixed-wing aircraft.

Ford’s new arresting system, known as Advanced Arresting Gear, also uses electromagnetic technology. In addition to decreasing the stress on landing aircraft, the new arresting gear allows larger unmanned aerial vehicles like the MQ-25 Stingray to land on the Ford.

Navy cruiser Arkansas shock trials explosion
US Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Arkansas during a shock test, March 17, 1982.

Ford also has a new Dual Band Radar system. While Nimitz-class carriers have multiple rotating radars, Ford has one stationary multi-purpose radar that is more sensitive to aerial threats and easier to operate and maintain.

The Navy says that the new systems together allow the Ford’s air wing to conduct 33% more sorties and reduce the number of crew needed to run the ship to about 4,500, down from the roughly 5,000 needed aboard Nimitz-class carriers.

Ford’s two A1B nuclear reactors, which are of totally new design, generate almost three times more power than the A4W reactors used on Nimitz-class carriers, increasing Ford’s electrical power capacity and generation substantially.

That power capacity allows Ford to reliably power all of its new high-tech systems and leaves the door open for possible upgrades to add systems like direct-energy weapons.

Carriers of the future

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford undergoing full-ship shock trials
Ford during shock trials on June 18, 2021

While the capabilities of the new systems are impressive, Ford has faced a number of setbacks, and a lot of work remains ahead.

Ongoing delays on the weapon elevators meant that not all of them were ready when the shock trials started, which means they won’t be fully tested during the trials.

Moreover, the Navy accepted the new carrier without it being able to handle the F-35C, which was supposed to be the backbone of the Ford’s air wing.

The jet still can’t fly from the Ford, but Navy officials say they hope to have at least six air wings with F-35s by 2025.

Navy aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy
The aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy is launched into the James River on February 28, 2020.

Despite the setbacks, the Navy hopes that Ford, which was commissioned in 2017, will start its maiden deployment in 2022.

Once the shock trials are finished, the Ford is expected to enter a month-long maintenance period, the carrier’s sixth so far, which will fix any damage from the trials and install the final upgrades.

A second Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy, is currently being fitted out, while a third, the Enterprise, is in the early stages of construction. Those carriers are scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in 2024 and 2028, respectively.

The fourth Ford-class carrier was ordered in 2019 and is scheduled for delivery in 2032. It will be named after Pearl Harbor hero Doris Miller, the first Black recipient of the Navy Cross.

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The US Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier has left the Pacific to cover the Afghanistan pullout

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76)
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) sailed through the Indian Ocean this week into the 5th Fleet area of operations to cover the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Afghanistan

  • The US Navy’s only forward-deployed carrier is no longer in the Pacific.
  • USS Ronald Reagan is moving into the Middle East to support the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
  • Some questioned whether the move shows the US isn’t focused enough on countering China.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Japan-based US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan has left the Pacific and is now moving into position in the Middle East to cover the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

The aircraft carrier, which is home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan in the 7th Fleet area of operations, has entered the 5th Fleet for the first time since 2012.

This is the first time that a Japan-based carrier has been sent to the Middle East since the USS Kitty Hawk deployed to the region in 2003 to support the invasion of Iraq, according to USNI News.

The carrier is accompanied by the cruiser USS Shiloh and destroyer USS Halsey and will “provide airpower to protect US and coalition forces as they conduct drawdown operations from Afghanistan,” the Navy said Friday.

The US military is currently in the process of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, where it has been fighting for nearly two decades, in accordance with an agreement with the Taliban negotiated during the last administration and upheld by the Biden administration.

US Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, said this week that the military has completed more than 50% of the retrograde process, which involves pulling out personnel and equipment and turning over bases and other facilities to the Afghan military.

The Pentagon’s plans to relocate the Ronald Reagan to support the withdrawal were first reported in late May by the Wall Street Journal, which argued in a later editorial that the move “highlights the US Navy’s dearth of ships to meet its military missions,” an important topic as the Biden administration thinks about what the future fleet should look like.

Questions have also been raised about whether or not the decision to relocate the Ronald Reagan sends the wrong message, one that contradicts US assertions that the strategically-significant Indo-Pacific region and China are top priorities, but the Pentagon has said this is not the case.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters in early June that the US military wants to make sure that it has “the ability to keep this a safe and orderly withdrawal.”

“And there are ample, I would say, military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region aside from the Ronald Reagan to meet our security commitments to our allies,” he added.

The US military still has a carrier in the Pacific, specifically the USS Carl Vinson, which has been conducting carrier air wing qualifications in the vicinity of Hawaii.

The commander of US Third Fleet said recently that the Vinson, as well as the other ships in the strike group, were “positioned to respond if called.”

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How the US Air Force sank the Navy’s plans for a new ‘supercarrier’ after World War II

Artist rendering of Navy aircraft carrier USS United States
An artist’s conception of US Navy aircraft carrier USS United States in October 1948.

  • USS United States was to be the lead ship of a new class of supercarriers after World War II.
  • It faced a number of design issues but was ultimately undone by pushback from the Air Force.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the history of the United States Navy, there has only been one vessel to enter service with the name USS United States, and it was actually one of the original six frigates that served as the core of the Navy in the first half of the 19th century. Three other vessels were to bear the name, including a Lexington-class battlecruiser.

However, there was also the USS United States (CVA-58), which was meant to be the lead ship of a new class of supercarriers developed after the Second World War.

Its design was seen as ambitious and even cutting edge but was likely entirely impractical and as a result just five days after her keel was laid down, the program was canceled.

A true flat top

Model of Navy aircraft carrier USS United States
A preliminary design model of Navy aircraft carrier USS United States during seakeeping tests in 1947.

In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman approved the construction of five new “supercarriers,” for which funds had been provided in the Naval Appropriations Act of 1949.

The carrier was a radical departure from the World War II-era flattops and in some ways evoked the “streamline moderne” of the Art Deco architecture and design movement that became common with post-war automobiles and aircraft.

The proposed 65,000-ton carrier (83,000 tons fully loaded) would feature a flush-deck that was designed to launch and recover large aircraft of 100,000 pounds, which in turn could carrier the nuclear weapons of the era that weighed as much as 5 tons.

The vessel was to be 1,000 feet long, without an island, and equipped with four aircraft elevators and four catapults. The flush deck was meant to provide more space for large bombers – although those would have to be secured to the flight deck as it would have been impossible to move them up or down in an elevator to the hangar.

However a small hanger was provided for the fighter escort – and as the design evolved, more space was given for the fighters. It was planned that the vessel’s air wing would be made up of about a dozen bombers as well as nearly 50 fighters.

Whereas the primary mission was to carry long-range bomber aircraft, the United States-class was also intended to provide tactical air support for the air and amphibious forces, as well as to conduct sea-control operations.

Massive size and costs

Navy aircraft carrier USS United States under construction
Workmen lay the 15-ton keel plate and initial shell plate of USS United States in a dry dock in Newport News, Virginia, April 18, 1949. The carrier was cancelled on April 23.

Designed as a conventional carrier, it would require eight Foster-Wheeler boilers and four Westinghouse turbines, which could produce 280,000 hp while four screws could allow the massive vessel to reach speeds in excess of 33 knots.

Construction costs were estimated to be around $190 million ($2.05 billion in 2020 dollars), while the cost of the task force to accompany the massive warship would have driven the total price tag to more than $1.265 billion.

The design was also not without some issues.

The lack of an island meant the ship lacked a position for radar, but also other command-and-control capabilities. A small tower-like platform could help direct movement on the flight deck, but radar, navigation, war planning, and other operations would have been relegated to a specially outfitted command ship cruiser.

Instead of being the flagship of a strike group, the United States and the other carriers would have been floating airfields or arsenal ships.

Issues such as smoke from the power plants and how it would be diverted away from the flight deck had to be resolved. And again the Navy’s bombers would have to remain on the flight deck during an entire voyage.

Navy aircraft carrier USS United States under construction
The keel plate of USS United States in a construction dry dock in Newport News, Virginia, on April 18, 1949.

It wasn’t an enemy adversary that eventually “sank” the project, but rather the United States Air Force, which had viewed the carrier as an embodiment of the Navy’s nuclear aspirations.

The Joint Chief of Staff seemed to agree that the carrier’s main function would only serve to duplicate the role of the Air Force. Just days after the keel of the lead vessel had been laid down, the program was canceled.

Secretary of the Navy John Sullivan immediately resigned, while the subsequent “Revolt of the Admirals” resulted in Adm. Louis Denfeld being relieved of his position as Chief of Naval Operations.

It didn’t mark the end for the supercarrier, and instead, just five years later the Navy moved forward with the more conventionally figured USS Forrestal-class.

As nuclear weapons shrank in size it was also determined that a massive warship designed to accommodate carriers wasn’t required. In the 1950s, nuclear weapons were sent to sea on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt – a carrier far smaller than the planned USS United States.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including “A Gallery of Military Headdress,” which is available on

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The Russian military has been practicing taking out an enemy carrier strike group in the Pacific

The Russian navy Varyag missile cruiser ensuring air defence in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Russian navy Varyag missile cruiser.

  • Russia recently conducted a major military exercise in the Pacific.
  • Its defense ministry said this week that their forces practiced destroying an enemy carrier group.
  • Russian naval and air assets conducted a simulated conventional missile strike on the mock enemy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Russian military has been training to destroy a carrier strike group in the Pacific, the Russian Ministry of Defense said this week, shedding light on recent drills.

Roughly two dozen Russian combat ships, submarines and support vessels, together with as many aviation assets, recently conducted a major exercise in which Russian forces conducted a simulated attack on an enemy carrier strike group.

Russian forces divided into two teams about 300 miles apart, with one playing the role of the enemy. The defense ministry did not identify any specific adversary.

The opposing military force, consisting of the cruiser Varyag, destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov, and two smaller corvettes, carried out a simulated conventional missile strike on the mock enemy. The attack also involved air assets.

Russia said its forces “worked out the tasks of detecting, countering and delivering missile strikes against an aircraft carrier strike group of a mock enemy.”

Russia said that the exercise took place around 2,500 miles southeast of the Kuril islands. Media reports on the exercises put the drills within several hundred miles of Hawaii, though US Indo-Pacific Command told The Drive that some Russian ships came a lot closer, in some cases within 20 to 30 nautical miles.

The Russian Ministry of Defense statement on the exercise does not say when it occurred, but, as noticed, a Russian state media article announced on June 13 that a force of the same size and involving the same ships started training in the Pacific.

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105), front, and Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transit the Pacific Ocean
Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105), front, and Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transit the Pacific Ocean

On June 17, just a few days after the Russian drills in the Pacific began, the US Navy announced that Carrier Strike Group One led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was active in the Hawaiian Islands Operating Area.

US defense officials recently told CBS News that while the Vinson’s activities were planned, they were moved closer to Hawaii in response to the Russian exercises. The US also scrambled fighter jets in response to Russian bombers during this time, according to ABC News.

Insider contacted Third Fleet for comment on the Vinson’s activities but has not yet received a response.

Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, the commander of US Third Fleet, said in a statement last week that “operating in Hawaii provides unique opportunities for Vinson to train jointly while positioned to respond if called.”

The admiral added that “they train to a variety of missions, from long range strikes to anti-submarine warfare, and can move anywhere on the globe on short notice.”

US carrier strike groups, which consist of not just a carrier and its air wing but also other surface combatants, bring tremendous firepower to a fight and have been critical components of America’s power projection capabilities for decades, at times making them a focus for US rivals.

The recent Russian military exercises follow an episode in late January in which a large force of Chinese military aircraft, including fighters and bombers, conducted a simulated missile attack on an American carrier strike group in the South China Sea.

Though the Chinese aircraft remained more than 250 nautical miles from the carrier group and “at no time” posed a threat to it, INDOPACOM characterized China’s actions as “the latest in a string of aggressive and destabilizing actions.”

The command said China’s “actions reflect a continued [People’s Liberation Army] attempt to use its military as a tool to intimidate or coerce those operating in international waters and airspace.”

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Explosion triggered near new US Navy aircraft carrier during shock trials registered as 3.9 magnitude earthquake

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford undergoing shock trials in the Atlantic Ocean
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) completes the first scheduled explosive event of Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, June 18, 2021

  • The US Navy triggered a big explosion near its new aircraft carrier Friday during shock trials.
  • The explosion registered as a 3.9 magnitude earthquake, USNI News reported.
  • Shock trials test the hardness of the ship to determine if it can withstand harsh battle conditions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Navy triggered an explosion near its new aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, off the US East Coast on Friday during shock trials, and the big blast registered as a 3.9 magnitude earthquake, USNI News reported, citing US Geological Survey data.

The US government agency recorded the activity as an “experimental explosion” about 100 miles off the coast of Florida, where a Navy spokesperson confirmed to Insider the Ford is undergoing shock trials.

Shock trials test a ship’s ability to withstand brutal battle conditions, specifically the detonation of ordnance nearby. By setting off controlled explosions near Navy ships, the Navy can identify critical shock-related vulnerabilities.

The Navy released video footage of the explosive shock trials from different angles.

The following Navy video, which appears to have been taken from aboard the Ford, shows the intensity of the nearby explosion.

USS Gerald R. Ford, a first-in-class vessel and the Navy’s most advanced aircraft carrier, was “designed using advanced computer modeling methods, testing, and analysis to ensure the ship is hardened to withstand battle conditions, and these shock trials provide data used in validating the shock hardness of the ship,” the service said.

Commenting on the results of the first explosive event, posts on the Ford’s official social media pages said that “the leadership and the crew demonstrated Navy readiness fighting through the shock, proving our warship can ‘take a hit’ and continue our mission on the cutting edge of naval aviation.”

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford undergoing full-ship shock trials
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) completed the first scheduled explosive event of Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean on June 18, 2021.

The Navy explained in a Facebook post on the testing that it “conducts shock trials of new ship designs using live explosives to confirm that our warships can continue to meet demanding mission requirements under harsh conditions they might encounter in battle.”

Shock trials were born from observations during World War II, a 2007 Navy-sponsored study said.

During the war, the Navy discovered that while “near miss” explosions did not severely damage the hull or superstructure of ships, the shock from the blast would knock out key system and cripple the vessels.

In response, the study explained, the Navy created a “rigorous shock hardening test procedure” known as shock trials.

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford undergoing full-ship shock trials
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) completes the first scheduled explosive event of Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, June 18, 2021

The latest shock trials involving the Ford are the first aircraft carrier trials since those involving the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1987.

The Navy said that the trials are being conducted in a way that “complies with environmental mitigation requirements, respecting known migration patterns of marine life in the test area.”

The service also stated that it “also has employed extensive protocols throughout [full-ship shock trials] to ensure the safety of military and civilian personnel participating in the testing evolution.”

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