A controversial arresting gear system that has suffered delays and spurred congressional inquiries will remain the technology of choice for the Navy's next aircraft carrier, officials with Naval Air Systems Command announced Monday.
Citing continued progress in the test program for the Advanced Arresting Gear developed by General Atomics, officials announced in a release that the system would remain the recovery system of choice aboard the future carrier John F. Kennedy, set to be commissioned in 2020. The Kennedy is the second in a new class of carriers, with the first, the Gerald R. Ford, expected to be delivered to the Navy in April.
"AAG works," Capt. Steve Tedford, Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment program manager and head of the team managing the AAG development program, said in a statement. "The progress of AAG testing this past year has been significant and has demonstrated the system's ability to meet Navy requirements. The team overcame many challenges to get the system to this point and ensure its readiness to support CVN 78 and future Ford-class ships."
NAVAIR officials said the decision to continue with AAG was the result of a thorough program review conducted in November, with leadership from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley. The board, according to the release, also considered the possibility of returning to the legacy Mk-7 landing system in use by carriers today.
Last July, the Defense Department Inspector General released an audit finding that the new recovery system had blown past cost as schedule baselines due to ineffective program management and expensive midstream redesigns.
"Ten years after the program entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase, the Navy has not been able to prove the capability or safety of the system to a level that would permit actual testing of the system on an aircraft carrier because of hardware failures and software challenges," the authors of the report wrote.
"This occurred because the Navy pursued a technological solution for its Ford-class carriers that was not sufficiently mature for the planned use, resulting in hardware failures to mechanical and electrical components and software modifications to accommodate those failures," they wrote.
Speaking to reporters earlier this month, outgoing Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the problems arose from an overeagerness to equip the first of the new Ford class of supercarriers with the latest technology under development.
"New technology got pushed onto the [U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford] much faster than it should have been. That was a decision made by Defense Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld in 2002. All this new technology was put on three different successive carriers, and it was all unproven," Mabus said. "It's going to be ready for the Ford to go into the fleet and to deploy, and it will be effective. But it took a long time, because it was brand-new technology, and it shouldn't have all been put on that first ship."
Navy officials said the decision to move forward with AAG came on the heels of the 350th recovery of an F/A-18E Super Hornet in December using the new system. Other milestones for testing include the completion of more than 1,400 dead-load arrestments and 351 test arrestments with the Super Hornet, and ongoing commissioning testing aboard the Ford, according to the announcement.
"There is much left to be done to qualify the entire air wing for deployed operations," Rear Adm. Mike Moran, Program Executive Officer for Tactical Aircraft Programs, said in a statement, "but this team is on the right track and focused on delivering the performance the Navy requires."