As the U.S. Navy tries to stick to its funding plans for Aegis combat system upgrades, and as successful live-fire tests for the latest software improvements to the system mount, the service is considering flying fewer tests to save money.

“They’re looking at ways to consolidate life-fire tests to save some bucks,” says Jim Sheridan, director of the U.S. Navy’s Aegis program for Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the combat system and proposed upgrades.

The Navy could shave the number of tests to three from five, Sheridan says, adding that the company supports the measures. “We certainly understand the need,” Sheridan says.

Not too long ago, Sheridan had voiced concerns that sequestration and other funding issues would delay shipboard Aegis upgrades and improvements. “With the fielding profile, though,” he says, “they are sticking to their guns.”

According to Sheridan, reducing the number of tests is more than a fair tradeoff for keeping that upgraded Aegis fielding schedule. However, fewer tests, he says, will create challenges for Lockheed Martin, which has prided itself on an Aegis program that develops a little and tests a lot.

“It will make for more dynamic underways,” Sheridan says. “It will be busier on the ships.”

A shortened test schedule also will reduce the time between exercises for Lockheed to address any problems it sees during those tests. It will be a challenge, Sheridan says, “to turn around fixes expeditiously.”

Currently, software upgrades have gone out without a hitch during tests and operated as modeled, he says, adding that most “fixes” have been “nuisance” issues like the condition of display equipment.

“All the functionality is built and has been [ready] for a while,” he adds.

The latest Aegis test triumph was a live-firing earlier this month, proving that the system can defend beyond its line of sight by integrating data from a remote sensor to intercept a target.

The Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) test marks the first test at sea, and the second consecutive time this year that Aegis has used remote data to successfully intercept a target, Lockheed says. Using the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) to interpret data from remote sources, Aegis launched a Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) missile from the cruiser CG-62 USS Chancellorsville to intercept the target.

The Chancellorsville is the first of four Aegis cruisers scheduled for Aegis Baseline 9 modernization, the combat system’s newest capability build. The ship’s upgrade was completed in March.

Lockheed also is working on the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) 5.0 capabilities upgrade (CU) Aegis improvement. “We’re designing,” Sheridan says. “We’re building the code.”

BMD is becoming one of the most important developing missions for the Navy. The service has significantly changed its shipbuilding plans to get more BMD capability into the fleet sooner.

“My biggest fear is that funding would go away,” Sheridan says. “That it would stop the train. But we’re hitting all of the stations.”