Friday, April 8, 2016

America Class and the F-35B

The F-35B is, or will be, inextricably linked to the America class LHA.  The F-35B was built to operate from the America and the America was built, specifically, to operate the F-35B since the ship has no well deck.  My suspicion is that the America was built to be a mini-aircraft carrier rather than an amphibious ship.  America can operate 20 F-35Bs when configured as a mini-carrier.

America was informally commissioned in Jul 2014 and proceeded to sail to San Diego where the ship was formally commissioned in Oct 2014.  In the ensuing 17 months, the ship has spent the majority of the time in dock and has just now returned to duty after spending the previous ten months undergoing upgrades to accommodate the F-35B.  Upgrades included strengthening the flight deck, adding soundproofing, rearranging and restructuring compartments immediately under the flight deck due to noise issues, hangar modifications, and treating the flight deck with a specially designed thermal coating to accommodate the massive heat load of the F-35B.  As a USNI News article puts it,

“The aviation-centric big deck was commissioned in late 2014 but required additional work to take the day-to-day strain of operating the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) strike fighters that will operate from the ship.” (1)

Apparently, no one realized the impact the F-35B would have on the ship that was designed to operate it.  That’s some pretty major design flaws in a ship that was specifically designed to operate the F-35B! 

This also illustrates the on-going impact of the F-35B on the entire military.  The cost of the F-35B program extends well beyond the “mere” cost of the aircraft’s construction.  I have seen no figures beyond an initial $32M contract for normal post-shakedown work but what do you think a 10 month upgrade/rebuild effort on the America cost?  It’s got to be hundreds of millions of dollars.  Further, the next ship in the class, LHA-7, will also require extensive refits after completion which is more money to make the F-35 program work.  The Navy’s website makes it clear that the vast majority of the 10 month upgrade period is due strictly to the F-35.

America is more than halfway through its post-shakedown availability period (PSA) in which the ship's crew and contractors make improvements to the ship's design. About 20 percent of the work being performed is the normal maintenance associated with PSAs for newly constructed ships. The rest of the maintenance consists of the upgrades designed to support the JSF.” (2)

Beyond the cost, the work required the ship to be idled for 10 months.  Thanks to the F-35B, the America has been in dock for 10 of its 17 months in commission.  The ship’s two year anniversary is coming up and it has yet to deploy.


(1)USNI News, “USS America Back to Sea After Completing 10-Months of Deck Strengthening for F-35s”, Sam LaGrone, March 22, 2016,

(2)navy.mil, “America Modifications Increase Air Capabilities”, USS America (LHA 6) Public Affairs, 8-Dec-2015,


17 comments:

  1. It is tragic that the carrier has been named America class. Perhaps it is also reflective of the direction the US has been heading.


    Another scary question is the opportunity cost of this whole fiasco. The America class + the F-35B program. Actually, the F-35B variant is partly why the fuselage is so fat and draggy.

    This seems like a serious oversight and one that needs investigation. Worse, it may have been intentional to benefit the defense industry.

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    1. "Another scary question is the opportunity cost of this whole fiasco. The America class + the F-35B program. Actually, the F-35B variant is partly why the fuselage is so fat and draggy. "

      If you could have gotten like 90% commonality with parts, then maybe the F-35 could honestly start really having honest cost reductions. You'd still have the same fighter with the same kinematic/flight code/ALIS code/etc. issues, but at least there would be hope that you could field a fighter with a very similar logistical foot print. Would it be worth it? I don't think so, but it would at least be a positive.

      The last war college podcast I heard had the F-35 variants as having like 20% parts commonality. So we don't even get that.

      This whole program has been a mess.

      As to the America/Tripoli issue, I wonder how much can be laid on concurrency.

      If you're building and designing the two side by side, I can see how things like 'Plane X has to have Y thrust to over X minutes...' could be just a WAG.

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  2. It seems another example of where the military does no look ahead and anticipate problems.

    Critics have warned that with both the F-35B and to a lesser extend the V-22 that pointing jet engines at the deck is going to cause problems. But instead of testing this out by making up an experimental rig and either building a fake flight deck or using one of the decommissioned ships flight deck and seeing what happens, they turned a blind eye to it and waited until the ship was commissioned to do something about it. This costing extra money and delaying deployment then if it had been taken care of earlier.

    But it was in the interest of the F-35B, V-22, and America to ignore it since they could hide the true cost of the systems until it could be hidden in operational funding. It would have been cheaper overall to do it earlier but now its cost is in other budgets and hard for outsiders to add up the true cost. Though as pointed out in the article its hard to hide the cost of a brand new ship sitting in port for months

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    1. As you point out, the incompatibility between the American and the F-35 was well known. The disregard of those issues is staggering in the degree of incompetence it reveals.

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  3. The people who check out the ship after launch back in 2014, seemed mostly happy.
    "During the trials the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) performed rigorous tests and evaluated all of the ship's major systems, including combat, propulsion, communications, navigation, mission systems and aviation capabilities. The successful completion of the trials brings the ship one step closer to delivery.
    “The ship performed extremely well,” said Capt. Chris Mercer, Amphibious Warfare program manager for the Program Executive Office, Ships..."
    http://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/lha6/Pages/LHA6CompletesAcceptanceTrials.aspx

    Thats was 2 years ago, so how can board of inspection and survey pass the vessel then for its 'aviation capabilities'

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  4. Similar story of obfuscation of the total cost of the John F Kennedy CVN-79 by hiding the spend in future maintenance budgets according to the GAO Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs March 2016 report.

    "The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016 reduced the cap for CVN 79 to $11.4 billion, though costs for this ship may also increase. The Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Congressional Budget Office expect CVN 79 to surpass the earlier statutory cost cap of $11.5 billion by at least $235 million. The Navy asserts it will meet CVN 79's cost cap, but assumes unprecedented efficiency gains in construction, that CVN 79's production hours will be 18 percent lower than CVN 78. The Navy also adopted a two-phased acquisition approach for CVN 79 that will shift some construction to a postdelivery period. According to program officials, this will enable the Navy to procure and install electronic systems at the latest possible date to prevent
    obsolescence prior to ship deployment. However, this strategy results in a less capable and complete ship at delivery. The Navy is also transferring the costs of a number of known capability upgrades from CVN 79 to other accounts by deferring work to future maintenance periods–obscuring CVN 79's actual costs."

    http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/676281.pdf page 98

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    1. If the Navy would put half the effort into intelligent design and competent oversight that they put into accounting manipulations, we'd have effective, affordable ships.

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  5. You criticise the Navy for smart decisions, stupid decisions..... basically any decision.

    The Navy held off modifying LHA-6 until it had real world data on F-35 deck impacts and AC operations. It has 8 other ships that were build prior to F-35 needs- all of which have to be modified. It could have assigned a bunch of analysts to guess at F-35 impacts, issued change orders, absorbed the costs and delays OR waited and seen what operations actually revealed.

    For once it waited for real world results and is absorbing what are relatively reasonable cost and schedule impacts. Secondly and contrary to your claims it was able to incorporate design changes into LHA-7 and subsequent ships which will make it F-35 ready upon delivery:
    "“LHA 7 is being built as a repeat of the LHA 6 with very limited changes to the design. After delivery of LHA 6, a group of significant changes to the ship’s flight deck structure and equipment were necessary to accommodate the F-35B aircraft. These improvements are being incorporated into the basic build of LHA 7, which is expected to yield a better overall technical solution at reduced cost,” Leonard added."
    http://www.dodbuzz.com/2015/07/25/navy-builds-second-america-class-amphibious-assault-ship/

    The Navy does a lot of things wrong, but your failure to fairly evaluate wrong from right makes your blog seem more like a place to complain rather than a place to explore solutions.

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    1. On those rare occasions that I see a smart decision, I've just as loudly proclaimed it - there just aren't many of them.

      The F-35 has been under development for two decades with the development contract awarded in 1996. America began building around 2007, if I remember correctly. There was plenty of time to thoroughly understand the basics of the aircraft's weight, movements, engine temperatures, maintenance needs, noise levels, etc. prior to the design of the America.

      I provide references that support my points in each blog. From reference (1), here's the quote noting that LHA-7 will also have to undergo F-35 mods.

      "The follow-on Tripoli (LHA-7) will undergo a similar – but shorter — maintenance availability following delivery to accommodate the F-35s which some of the deck strengthening work already underway at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss."

      I invite you to disagree with me but be sure to do your homework first.

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    2. I suspect that you're incorrectly evaluating poor decisions as "smart" but to be fair why don't you list a few smart decisions that you think I've unfairly criticized. I'd like to give you every chance to make your point. Who knows, maybe you can demonstrate to me that I am being unduly critical? Give me some examples.

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  6. This does seem strange as the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier is similarly designed specifically for the F-35B and has not required a redesign ?

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    1. I know little about the QE. Has it been tested with an F-35B to see if its suitable?

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    2. "This does seem strange as the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier is similarly designed specifically for the F-35B and has not required a redesign ?"

      Yet.
      I think yet could yet be a key point.

      The QE was also envisioned as a full carrier, the America, has a less clear lineage, it was an LPH with some vstol capability, now it appears to be a vstol carrier with some LPH capability.
      A deck that can tolerate 4 fighters, maybe 8 launches per day, and a deck that can tolerate 20 fighters, and 40+ launches per day, are likely very different propositions.

      The QE was always envisioned to make 100+ launches per day, those launches being hotter than envisioned, is problematic, but likely less so than simple volume of launches.

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    3. Im not sure where the heat "surprise" came from. QE class was always to be clad with thermal coatings on the flight deck.

      The design as i understand it has not change other than to remove some blast deflectors as they wernt needed in F35B testing. ( this was years back )

      Possibly as the UK had so much to do with the VTOL aspects. And history with the type we planned ahead. But id be surprised everyone didnt know the stresses ?

      CNO F35B has been tested on land with the ramp and the coatings. Yes. Not on the actual ship yet no.

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    4. Ben, there are lots of F-35B related issues. Heat is only one of them. For example, the Navy found that the noise levels were so high a deck below the flight deck that many compartments had to be moved, repurposed, and provided with additional sound insulation.

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  7. An escort CV was a worthy endeavor IMO. The flaw was trying the plan to VSTOL aircraft instead of a Midway like ship with CATOBAR capabilities.

    The America class was designed to accommodate an aircraft that was designed to replace the Harrier. This was force shaping at its worst.

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