Live Fire Test and Evaluation, or simply LFT&E as it is called in the test and evaluation world. Any new weapons system needs to go through a testing program where it is subjected to a small sample of what an explosive event would be like.
As the DoD puts it, LFT&E is
…an assessment of the vulnerability and lethality of a system as it progresses through Developmental Test & Evaluation (DT&E) prior to Full-Rate Production (FRP). LFT&E typically includes testing at the component, subassembly, and subsystem level, and may also draw upon design analyses, modeling and simulation, combat data, and related sources such as analyses of safety and mishap data.
LFT&E is guided by a statutory requirement for “realistic survivability testing” or “realistic lethality testing” as defined in (10 USC 2366). A system can go thru Early and Full Up LFT&E. One of the purposes of conducting LFT&E early in the program life cycle is to allow time to correct any design deficiency demonstrated by the test and evaluation.
As you can see, this program is outlined in the US Code, so its not just some thing where you get the Mythbuster dudes (Jamie and Adam) to go out and blow stuff up next to a tank, a helicopter or, in this case, an aircraft carrier.
This photo shows the shock waves from an LFT&E test approaching the aircraft carrier USS JOHN F KENNEDY. This, I believe, was a second LFT&E test on Big John, after a major rehab period in the yards. The shock waves aren’t enough to cause serious damage to the ship or injury (hopefully), but it can highlight systems that can be vulnerable to the shock and impact of blast waves from ordnance or explosives.
LFT&E should accomplish the following:
- Provide information to decision-makers on potential user casualties, vulnerabilities, and lethality, taking into equal consideration susceptibility to attack and combat performance of the system;
- Ensure that knowledge of user casualties and system vulnerabilities or lethality is based on testing of the system under realistic combat conditions;
- Allow any design deficiency identified by the testing and evaluation to be corrected in design or employment before proceeding beyond Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP); and
- Assess recoverability from battle damage and battle damage repair capabilities and issues.
Interestingly, the Navy is looking to defer this test on the new class of carrier, the FORD class, until a second ship is launched and commissioned. There are so many new funky systems on the FORD – new catapults, new arresting gear, a new electrical system, etc – that there are worries that a robust LFT&E program will damage the ship so that it will need major, time-consuming repairs. Yeah, maybe that is something they should have thought about during the design phase, but whatever.