Next up on the DOT&E hit parade (see previous post for link to DOT&E report) is the Ford class aircraft carrier, CVN-78. Other reports have previously documented that the Ford is a billion dollars or more over budget and the delivery schedule has slipped drastically with additional budget and schedule overruns sure to come. Still, there have been no fatal technology flaws or rash of problems discovered, at least not as compared to the LCS, LPD-17, or JSF. Here, though, are a few items to keep an eye on.
“In 2007, the Program Office identified discrepancies with the integration of the JSF’s F135 engine onto aircraft carriers. The weight of the F135 power module, approximately 10,000 pounds, exceeds the limit of current underway replenishment (UNREP) systems. Although CVN-78 will include a heavy UNREP system that will allow transfer of 12,000 pounds, supply ships must include the new system for power module transfer to occur. The Navy’s plan to install heavy UNREP systems on resupply ships has slipped eight years.”
This is saying that the Navy can’t get replacement JSF engines at sea from supply ships for the next decade. Yikes! Of course, given the glacial progress of the JSF, that may not turn out to be a problem as the JSF may well not reach squadron service for several more years. Ouch! JSF – the gift that keeps on giving.
Ford’s combat system has known, major issues. To be fair, these issues are present across several classes of ships (basically, all the carriers and amphibious ships) and are related to legacy sensor capabilities, sensor placement, legacy weapon’s performance limitations, etc. As the report states,
“Previous testing of Navy combat systems similar to CVN-78’s revealed numerous integration problems that degrade the performance of the combat system.”
The Ford is intended to operate the JSF as its main aircraft. Unfortunately, the Ford has numerous JSF compatibility issues.
“JSF battle damage assessment and non-traditional Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance information captured on the Portable Memory Device or cockpit video recorder cannot be shared real-time with the Distributed Common Ground System-Navy (DCGS-N). This prevents assessment by shipboard intelligence analysts for inclusion in mission reports.”
“Ships are unable to receive and display Link 16 imagery; this problem is not unique to JSF. … Limited shipboard capabilities exist with expeditionary Link 16. The Navy is considering a program of record to distribute imagery to analysts and maritime operations command and control nodes (e.g., carriers and amphibious ships). This would be a temporary workaround for the DCGS-N post-flight data gap.”
“The JSF Prognostic Health Maintenance (PHM) downlink design for ships is not mature. The uncertainty in the technical characteristics of the final design means that there are potential challenges to integrating PHM into current shipboard communications suites and networks.“
“The JSF wheel supplier’s recent rim inspection requirement may force a significant increase in shipboard tire and wheel storage requirements.”
While none of the JSF compatibility issues pose a significant technical challenge, they will negatively impact the Ford’s cost and schedule and may initially negate some of the benefits and features of the JSF.
In a recurring theme, the Navy is trying to postpone actual performance tests on ships in favor of simulations. The Navy wants to postpone shock testing on the Ford for several years and wait to perform it on the next ship, CVN-79. DOT&E’s comment was,
“While the Navy has made substantial effort in component and surrogate testing, this work does not obviate the need to conduct the FSST [ed.: Full Ship Shock Trials] to gain the critical empirical data that past testing has repeatedly demonstrated are required to rigorously evaluate the ship’s ability to withstand shock and survive in combat. Shock Trials conducted on both the Nimitz class aircraft carrier and the
class Amphibious Transport Dock demonstrated the need for and substantial value of conducting the FSST. Postponing the FSST until CVN-79 would cause a five- to seven-year delay in obtaining the data critical to evaluating the survivability of the CVN-78 and would preclude timely modification of subsequent ships of this class to assure their survivability. … The delay is not a sufficient reason to postpone the shock trial, since the shock trial could reveal valuable lessons, including previously unknown vulnerabilities.” San Antonio
As the report points out, delay will prevent the lessons learned from shock trials from being incorporated into the next carrier and will result in weaknesses being built into the class and additional expenses incurred to remedy them in already constructed vessels.
The Navy has fully embraced the philosophy of concurrent design and construction despite overwhelming evidence that the practice causes runaway costs, perpetuated design flaws, schedule slippages, and fielding of sub-par platforms. This approach is stupidity on a scale that’s almost unimaginable.
As the report points out, there are still several technologies (EMALS, AAG, DBR, etc.) associated with the Ford that cannot or will not be fully tested until actually installed. Of a certainty, additional problems will be uncovered which will impact mission performance and require lengthy and costly fixes.