Sunday, January 20, 2013

DOTE Report - Ford

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 San Antonio 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.”

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.


  1. Maybe this (the large engine issue) will jumpstart a C2/E2 replacement program.

    Nah, not likely.

  2. JUST dump the JSF, buy more super hornets and work on a long range fighter and a long range attack aircraft to do the refueling to...

    1. You're quite right about what to do in the immediate short term. Ask yourself, though, why is the JSF program such a failure? We've built many other new planes over the years and, yes, each costs more than the one before it (usually more than we budgeted) and each has developmental problems but why has the JSF been orders of magnitude more expensive and trouble plagued?

      The answer is that, much like the LCS, the military attempted to jump a few levels of technology and is paying the price in technical problems above and beyond the norm. Also, the military has attempted to do what the Navy does with its ships - build a platform that can win a war single-handed. In other words, instead of building a single function, relatively simple platform they're trying to cram every function everyone can think of into a single platform.

      The JSF is a fighter. No, it's an attack plane. No, it's a recon/intel platform.

      The JSF is an Air Force plane. No, it's a carrier plane. No, it's a VTOL.

      Right there we've tried to combine nine different attributes into a single plane. You just know that's going to create huge costs and lots of technical problems. In other words, the resulting plane won't be optimized for any of the functions.

      For example, JSF is not well suited as a carrier plane since it only has a single engine and it's shape doesn't allow for optimum tailhook placement.

      Or, JSF carries too small an ordnance load to be a good strike plane and lacks range (it's no Intruder!) but it's not maneuverable enough and can't carry enough weapons to be a good fighter.

      Back to your suggestion that the JSF be dumped, which I agree with. What would replace it? Given the military's trend to build "everything" platforms, it would just be replaced by an even more costly and compromised design. What we need to do is go back to building simple, dedicated platforms for each job. Build an Air Force lightweight F-16 type fighter. Build a Navy deep strike plane and a separate Navy fighter. And so on. Now, that doesn't mean that you can't add a bit of cross functionality but don't let it drive the design. Remember how, at the end of its life, the Tomcat was given a credible, conventional add-on strike capability - the Bombcat? That kind of add-on is OK to try to get more out of a plane.

      The Navy needs a long range air superiority fighter (a Tomcat replacement) for the China A2/AD scenario and the vast distances involved.

      Similarly, the Navy needs a deep strike plane with 1000+ mile combat radius.

      The Navy needs a dedicated tanker that can service Air Force as well as Navy planes.

      The Navy needs a dedicated ECM/intel plane (the Growler is a poor man's, stopgap effort).

      The Navy needs a new S-3 Viking ASW plane.

  3. The A-6 had a upgrade on the table. Shelved and killed because it wasnt stealthy, and the A-12 super plane was going to be personal jesus to everyone.

    And A-12 killed Navy strike.

    The Tomcat had the same it would have been an amazing plane. Guess what same thing.

    The Navy doesnt need a 1,000mi+ combat radius fighter. Just a long range strike aircraft that can deliver 18,000-20,000lbs of ordinance or fuel. It would act as the Navies refueler. Or if your really looking for alot see about making a C-2 update it and make it a refueler.

    There are lots of idea's and ways to do it just do it.

    We dont need the Strike fighter to have a mach 1.2 speed....which they wont ever reach anyways. Sub is fine.

    Make the fighter large if needed. No swing wing just make it damn good. Use what we know now.

    Hell have them use the same engines etc. There are lots of ways just the Navy wanted once again its jesus fighter.

    1. James,

      While I agree with much of what you said, I disagree that the Navy doesn't need a long range fighter. The 1000-1500 nm A2/AD zone in the China scenario demands a very long range fighter in addition to a long range strike aircraft. I'm also dubious about trying to combine tanking with a strike plane if that's what you're suggesting. That's exactly what is being done with today's Hornets and the net result is that several Hornets are constantly acting as tankers and therefore unavailable for combat. Our combat air wings, small as they are, are actually several planes smaller than shown on paper because of this. A dedicated tanker is needed that can service Navy and Air Force planes.

    2. You missunderstand. The Navy needs the long ranged fighters. However, 1,000+ mi combat radius isnt a must. Its why the Super Intruder A-6 replacement exist. These are the Refuelers of the fleet as well as the bombers. Far more efficent.

      Getting 1,000+mi range would demand a aircraft even bigger than the F-14. And the greater and greater size would demand more and more engine and mass meaning less and less efficent. So...

      But yes we need new Long range aircraft over super stealth boondoggles which from what i can see of the pace of technology the stealth would be deemed irrelevent in 10 or so years and stealth no matter what anyone says is going to be impossible at sea.

      Ask what happens to those fighters when they get coated in sea salt. Thats not even mentioning the maintanence nightmare.

  4. I'm sick. The procurement system in all the services is broken. Our beloved nation is not be protected properly. Heads should role!

    In the seventies we designed the Bradley, the Abrams, the Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the A-10 Thunderbolt, the Patriot, the Ticos. the Burkes and we had the Spruance, the Palladin, the Apache, the MCs LAV III, greatly improved equipment for our ground pounders, the LA class, the HumVee, the B-1B, B-2, F-117 (never understood why it's labeled a "F" fighter and not an A or B?!?), the M-60 family and all the fantastic electronic thingies, known and still unknown that are absolutely amazing. And our servicemen and woman are the greatest in the world, ever, better than my father's greatest generation. A simple cry into the darkness... WHY?


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.