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Navy Alerted to Ford-class Carrier Reliability Issues


A Pentagon weapons report says technologies being developed for the Navy’s new next-generation aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, are not reliable.

In particular, the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, or DOT&E, annual report said the ship’s new catapult, the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems, or EMALS, Advanced Arresting Gear, Dual Band Radar and weapons elevators all need more testing and reliability improvement.

The USS Ford, or CVN 78, is slated to complete Initial Operational Test & Evaluation in 2017, a key step before formally deploying in service with the Navy. The DOT&E report finds that key testing and reliability improvements are necessary for this to take place successfully.

“DOT&E assesses that the poor or unknown reliability of these critical systems will pose the most significant risk to CVN-78’s successful completion of IOT&E,” the report says.

“The current reliability estimates for the catapult and arresting gear systems are a small fraction of their projected target for the shipboard configuration, and an even smaller fraction of the required reliability. Reliability test data are not available for the radar and the weapons elevators,” the report states.

Unlike steam catapults, which power airplanes on existing carriers, the EMALS system uses an electromagnetic charge. The EMALS system has been undergoing testing at a site in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The report says 201 launch failures have occurred out of a total of 1,967 launches.

“Based on available data, the program estimates that EMALS has approximately 240 mean cycles between critical failure in the shipboard configuration, where a cycle represents the launch of one aircraft,” the report says.

The report also highlights the Advanced Arresting Gear, or AAG, a technologically improved method of helping aircraft land on the flight deck of the carrier. The AAG is also being tested in Lakehusrt, N.J., and the report says that this system also experiences high rates of failure. There were nine arresting failures out of 71 attempts, the report claims.

“The Program Office estimates that AAG has approximately 20 mean cycles between operational mission failure in the shipboard configuration, where a cycle represents the recovery of one aircraft. Based on expected reliability growth, the failure rate is presently 248 times higher than should be expected,” the report says.

Navy officials say they will continue to work with DOT&E to complete the testing programs and transition the ship to service, however they remain confident in the development of the technologies slated to go on the USS Ford.

“Developmental systems such as EMALS, AAG and DBR are undergoing land based testing to build confidence in system reliability. The Navy remains confident they will exhibit sufficient operational availability to enable full performance,” said Chris Johnson, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command.

The USS Ford also has a larger deck space compared to its Nimitz-class predecessor carriers, an effort designed in part to increase the sortie generation rate of aircraft on the ship. The design of the deck space and the island are intended to create a circumstance wherein commanders can get 30-percent more sorties from a Ford-class carrier compared to a Nimitz-class carriers.

The DOT&E report, however, questions this, claiming the Ford-class’ sortie-generation rate numbers are overly optimistic. “The target threshold (sortie rate) is based on unrealistic assumptions including fair weather and unlimited visibility, and that aircraft emergencies, failures of shipboard equipment, ship maneuvers (e.g., to avoid land), and manning shortfalls will not affect flight operations,” the report states.

Navy officials expressed confidence in the Ford’s expected sortie generation rate.

“Sortie generation rate estimates have been developed through robust modeling and simulation, which the Navy will continue to mature through Initial Operational Test and Evaluation. Model results will be validated by an at-sea test after CVN 78 delivery,” Johnson added. “The Navy is confident that CVN 78 will meet threshold requirements and that the Ford Class will exceed the combat capability of the Nimitz Class.”

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