Ford Carrier is a Failure With Huge Radar, Elevator, Launch and Landing Problems

Ford Carrier is a Failure With Huge Radar, Elevator, Launch and Landing Problems

Brian Wang |
October 31, 2019 |

US Secretary Richard V. Spencer blames new multi-year delays for the next-generation Gerald Ford carrier on the budget cap limiting the spending to just over $13 billion. This is $2.5 billion over the original $10.5 billion budget.

On 10 September 2008, the U.S. Navy signed a $5.1 billion contract with Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Newport News, Virginia, to design and construct the carrier. As of 2013, construction costs were estimated at $12.8 billion, 22% over the 2008 budget, plus $4.7 billion in research and development costs.

The ship was originally scheduled for launch in July 2013 and delivery in 2015.

The ship was “delivered” in 2017 but it is not in good shape. The deployment date is now 2024 which is 6 years after the original plan.

The current error rates for launching and landing means a major failure every time they try to launch or land all the planes. The failures would take at minimum many hours if not days to fix. Launching means you launch maybe 30-80 planes and then shutdown for repairs. Landing means that you are unable to take back all of the planes you launched. In a combat situation, the planes after a landing system failure would have to go a nearby airbase or get ditched into the ocean.

This means none of the planned benefits of the Ford for higher launch rates or cheaper operation will be realized.

Nextbigfuture predicts that the four Ford-class ships using EMALS and the current design will not land or launch planes at the proper rate before 2035. Eventually, there might be some redesign, gutting, and overhaul. The four will get built and deployed but they will be two to three times the price of the Nimitz for less launch capability.

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They will not be able to deploy without a fully reliable landing system and some launch system that is at least half the Nimitz level of capability.

Nextbigfuture predicts the AAG landing gear will fail-operational tests, unless the tests standards are criminally reduced. They will or should replace them with the old MK 7 hydraulic arresting gear. The retrofit will be expensive and take a year or more.

The EMALS replacement would be far harder. They may find a way to separate the four launch units.

The Major Systems of Radar, Elevators, Launch and Landing Do Not Work

The ship has better AN/SPY-3 and AN/SPY-4 active electronically scanned array multi-function radar. It is replacing traditional steam catapults, the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) will launch all carrier aircraft. This innovation frees up considerable area below-deck and allows for the launching of smaller drones and fighters. The EMALS is supposed to allow 25% more aircraft launches per day than the Nimitz class. The ship should need 25% fewer crew members and save $4 billion in operating costs over a 50-year lifespan.

DOT&E reports the $500 million radar was plagued by extraneous false and close-in dual tracks adversely affecting its performance. The Navy plans to switch back to Nimitz style radar by the third Ford Carrier.

In January 2019, 20 launch and landing failures from Gerald Ford testing were made public.

The major Ford-class’ bugs will make it inferior to a Nimitz until the bugs are fixed.

Out of 747 shipboard launches performed with the EMALS, ten had suffered critical failures. The target reliability average was one critical failure per 4,166 launch cycles. The launch system is over 50 times less reliable than the target failure rate. Every time they try to launch the full complement of airplanes they will have a critical failure.

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The landing system also fails every 70-75 times it is used. This is over 200 times less reliable than planned. General Atomics engineers made it impossible to repair the AAG landing failures without shutting down flight operations. The AAG power supply can’t be disconnected from the high-voltage supply while flights continue.

The ship has a distributed power storage system. The entire EMALS generator must be “spun down” over 90 minutes in order for a failure to be repaired. The Ford has four launch catapults so that if one should one fail, the ship could continue operations using the remaining three. However, all four have to be shutdown for repairs.

The new carriers are not even capable of carrying the Navy’s new F-35C stealth fighters.

The Nimitz-class’ cable-based elevators lift 5.25 tons of munitions at 100 feet per minute. The Ford uses powerful magnets to lift 10-12 tons at 150 feet per minute, roughly tripling output. In July 2017, none of the Ford elevators were functional.

In January 2019, Navy Secretary Spencer personally vowed to President Donald Trump that the Ford would have fully functional weapons elevators by the time she departed for sea trials.

In October 2019, only two of the eleven elevators are functional. The Navy acquisition chief announced that work on getting the remainder operational would continue during sea trials.

In March 2019, the Ford experienced mysterious malfunctions in the nuclear propulsion system’s steam turbines. This needed unanticipated and extensive overhauls.

Testing revealed the Navy underestimated the workload and the number of people necessary to operate the EMALS system. The Navy redesign some berthing areas to accommodate more people. It was also supposed to increase the lifespan of aircraft by putting less stress on their airframes by using a more controlled release of energy during a catapult launch. Tests of land-based EMALS prototypes showed that the system actually overstressed F-18 airframes during launch. This all means no operational cost savings. A buggy lemon will obviously cost more to operate.

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SOURCES- USNI, Bloomberg

Written By Brian Wang,

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