Sunday, September 29, 2013


A new GAO report (1) discusses, among other things, the progress of the Ford class Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) systems which have been beset by technical problems and cost overruns.

GAO has this to say about the EMALS and AAG costs.

“Since 2008, EMALS-related costs for the first-of-class Gerald R. Ford [CVN 78] have risen by 133.7%, from $317.7 – $742.6 million. AAG costs have also spiked, though its 124.8% jump is only from $75 – $168.6 million. This is so despite the Navy’s 2010 firm fixed-price contracts to produce these systems for CVN 78. Even with cost caps, however, late delivery and testing means that changes have to be made to a partially-complete ship. EMALS configuration changes have already forced electrical, wiring, and other changes within the ship; and instead of just being hoisted into place, the Advanced Arresting Gear will now have to be installed in pieces via a hole cut in the flight deck. AAG continues to undergo redesigns, most recently to its energy-absorbing “water twister,” and limited EMALS testing with the delayed F-35C risks forcing further changes after the ship has been built.”

As we’ve noted in previous posts about Navy contracts for other programs, the fixed price contract is anything but fixed.  The term “fixed price” is just a public relations phrase intended to sound good to the public and Congress but it has no actual meaning.


Also, note the concurrency being demonstrated in this development.  The unproven AAG, having encountered problems and having failed to meet the schedule, will be installed out of sequence by cutting holes in the flight deck.  That’s construction money being spent at least three times over:  the initial flight deck installation, demolition of the flight deck, and rebuild of the flight deck.  That’s my tax dollars you’re throwing away, there, Navy!

The report goes on to note the following cost growths for EMALS and AAG.

                                    EMALS          134%
                                    AAG                125%

The GAO report has this to say about the development of the AAG.

“Developmental test failures led to system redesigns. Navy is presently executing the first phase of land-based testing concurrent with system production and installation on CVN 78. The system is scheduled to arrest its first aircraft in June 2014.” [emphasis added]

Note the phrase, “concurrent with system production and installation”.  Thus, we see that the same “build and buy before you test” approach is being used for the AAG acquisition as was done for the LCS.  We’ve seen the spectacular failure that resulted from that approach for the LCS and, yet, the Navy continues to use this badly flawed practice.

As an aside, weight margins are becoming a problem even before the ship has been completed. 

“To date, evolving information about the attributes of these technologies has produced a weight/stability configuration for CVN 78 that leaves little margin to incorporate additional weight growth high up in the ship without making corresponding weight trade-offs elsewhere or compromising the future growth potential of the ship.”

“According to shipbuilder representatives, additional weight growth to the advanced arresting gear was of particular concern and could trigger a need for future structural and space modifications around the installed system.”

We’ve already seen the impact of non-existent weight margins on the LCS.  It would be most unfortunate if the same were to happen to the Ford.  Again, this is due entirely to beginning construction prior to having a stable design from which weight calculations can be performed.

I have no doubt that the problems associated with EMALS and AAG will be solved but the cost in time, money, and growth margins will be steep.  Most of this could have been avoided by simply having a complete design and mature subsystems prior to construction. 

What’s the definition of insanity?  - Repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome.  The Navy has seen the LCS debacle that resulted from having no design and immature technology and yet is doing the exact same thing for the Ford class and expecting a different outcome.  Granted, the Ford is not as immature as the LCS but the concept is the same, differing only in degree.  The Navy seems adamantly unwilling to learn from experience.


  1. What do you think is behind the "build and buy before you test" approach? I mean, common sense and life experience tell all of us (I think) that this is not the way to go. So what drives it?

    1. JI, I really don't know. I've never heard any official explanation for the practice.

      Now, I'll speculate. For the last few decades the Navy has had a justification problem. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a series of ground wars, and forecasts of terrorism as the main threat (meaning, not a naval matter, by and large), the Navy has been searching for a mission and trying to justify their budget. Their answer is to combine made-up threats (littoral) and Star Wars technology to try to get a reluctant Congress to approve construction funding. For example, had the Navy gone to Congress and requested a replacement Perry FFG they would have hard a very hard time selling it. So, they made up "littoral" as a new threat. Even that was not enough because Congress asked the same question many of us did: why can't we upgrade Perrys? So, they threw in Powerpoint technology. Of course, the Navy knew none of it existed so they pressured Congress to approve funding with the assurance that the technology would be easily developed. They then issued construction contracts as quickly as possible before Congress could change their minds or ask troublesome questions. Hence, the LCS was built before any construction designs were even developed.

      Likewise for the Ford. I've never seen a single piece of evidence that the old steam cats and traps caused any problems and, yet, suddenly, the new tech was absolutely vital and the Nimit class was obsolete.

      Anyone got a better thought?

    2. The Navy's whole rationale for better cats and traps seems based on expected operational $ savings over time PLUS a sortie generation rate increase. However, based on what the GAO report said about how terrible the reliability of both emals and the new arresting gear are, I wonder if in the end we'll end up paying more $ for less capability. Stellar work as usual, Navy.

    3. I've heard the claims of increased sortie generation rate but I don't believe it. We currently launch and trap in around 45 sec intervals and I've never heard that those intervals are limited by the cats and traps. The limitation is the time it takes to position the aircraft and perform safety checks or the time it takes to disengage and taxi clear of the landing area. Those things won't change so how can the sortie rate increase? Maybe someone out there has an expanation?

  2. The strange thing about Ford development from Nimitz class is if the threat, i.e. China anti access missiles, is so bad then why is the Ford so similar to Nimitz? Sure there are some changes and newer, advanced gear but is that really such an upgrade to survive China's carrier killers? It is nice that USN is replacing radar but it is still going to be equipped with Sea Sparrow. Had the USN reached the limit of what was possible to do with steam catapults and arresting gear that it was necessary to throw all that knowledge out? At what cost and benefit? UAVs have been launched from steam catapults,right? So why couldn't USN wait for new catapults/arresting gear to be fully developed before installing it?

    1. NICO, good questions and I have no answers.

  3. Hmmm... the current Nimitz class all seem to be doing fine with steam cats and the arresting gear they have. If the new EMALS AND AAG are so much better, will they be retro-fitted? Conversely, if they can't get EMALS and/or AAG working in time, will the Ford go to sea with conventional steam cats and AG?

    1. As I said, I have yet to see a single piece of actual data showing the superiority of EMALS and AAG. As you astutely point out, if the technology is so superior we should be retro-fitting it with great urgency.

      At one time, the plan was for the Ford to operate with conventional cats and traps if the EMALS and AAG couldn't be ready in time. They weren't, as it turned out, but the Navy has decided that the delay is acceptable so, barring a total technical failure, Ford will wait as long as it takes and sail with the new technology.

  4. The USN is committed to EMALS and AAG for CVN-78, and there is no other realistic choice at this point but to move forward and do whatever it takes to make these new systems work.

    Steam catapults are a real pain to maintain. If my future great grandchildren eventually become carrier sailors in the year 2060, they will be very happy the USN got rid of these beasts.

    My guess for the future is that the inevitable teething problems that all new systems like EMALS and AAG have will be used as one justification among several to slow the rate of CVN carrier construction to one every nine years or so.

    That will give plenty of time to deal with the inevitable problems so that CVN-79 and subsequent hulls of the Ford Class will have many fewer reliability issues with its newest systems than CVN-78 USS Ford had.

    On the other hand, the slower production rate will increase per-hull unit costs and will be one factor among several in driving a progressive reduction in the number of CVNs with active task assignments from ten to six.

    The four legacy CVN hulls without active task assignments will not be formally decommissioned, or even be listed as commissioned but inactive.

    Rather, they will be tied to their piers in CONUS as surge deployment assets with minimal crews aboard to keep them in a semi-operable condition, while awaiting the day when funding once again becomes available to operate them as fully deployed assets.

    That could be a long time.

    1. Scott, you're quite right that the Navy is committed to EMALS and AAG and they aren't going to change. The mere fact that the Navy is committed is not reason to meekly go along it. If that were so, there would be no reason for this blog. Not all of the Navy's decisions are packed with wisdom. Of late, in fact, it seems that few are. To be fair to you, you didn't say we should be quiet and go along. My point is that committment by the Navy is not sufficient reason to withold questions and criticisms and I've taken advantage of your statement to reinforce that point. No criticism of your comment is intended. I'll continue to offer dissenting opinions, as warranted!

      You indirectly raise another point. No one outside the Navy knows what the justification for EMALS and AAG is. Maintainability? Sortie rate? Wear and tear on airframes? Something else? For any of these, assuming any are actual justifications, it would be nice to see some data. Will we save 1% on maintenance? 10%? 90%? How many additional hours of airframe use will we gain, if any? And so on. We could perform a LOT of maintenance for what these systems are costing in development. The Navy does a VERY poor job of communicating its plans, status, and justification to the TAXPAYER. No one is asking for classified data but if the Navy wants my money, I want to know what for and why.

      On a related note, CNO basically stated in one of his speeches that EMCON has become a major issue for the fleet. Equipment is being procured and deployed with little or no concern for electromagnetic emissions. The massive size and power of the EMALS motors, in particular, are probably the equivalent of a giant beacon to anyone scanning for electromagnetic emissions.

      Your thoughts on carrier costs and trends are going to prove prophetic, without doubt.

      Good comment!

    2. Concerning potential EMCON issues with the EMALS approach to launching aircraft, the day is coming, at some point in the future, where it will no longer be possible to hide the real-time location of a carrier battle group from an adversary's surveillance methods, regardless of what kinds of EMCON measures are being taken.

      The fact that EMALS is being pursued as all is an implicit acknowledgement of what the future holds for EMCON's effectiveness in hiding such a large collection of warships from detection, as a collection.

      Target identification and acquisition of individual warships is a whole different matter, but we can guess that EMALS spoofers of various and sundry capabilities will be used to confuse incoming anti-ship missiles.

    3. Scott, you bring up a fascinating point of conjecture: that the time is coming when a battle group's location can't be hidden. I disagree with that, or, to be more precise, I don't see any evidence of that coming to pass in the foreseeable future. Regardless, it's a great point to raise and I'd love to see "someone" do a post on it.

      While I acknowledge that detection methods are improving all the time, so too are countermeasures. It's just that the countermeasures tend not to get the attention and thus we predominantly hear the detection side of the story.

      One of the historical strengths of a navy is the ability to move unseen and appear out of nowhere. If that is lost, one of the major justifications for a Navy is lost. Or, perhaps it portends a significant shift to submarine rather than surface forces. As I say, a fascinating potential topic.

      Thanks for bringing it up. Great comment!

    4. Scot,

      I have to disagree - the time is coming when the first salvo of a "conventional" war will be to shoot down satellites, conduct EMP burst to destroy/disrupt communications, cyber attacks on critical systems, and other general mayhem designed to blind and disrupt enemy C4ISR.

      We are preparing for it, the Chinese are preparing for it, the Russians...


    5. GAB, it is a Back to the Future kind of situation. Do you suppose the Naval Academy will start teaching celestial navigation again?

      One has to believe that substantial efforts are being pursued by everyone with a stake in this game to prepare for having to perform C4ISR without the usual space-based tools everyone has come to rely upon.

      Every player will have to develop C4ISR platforms, sensors, and communications networks that can operate independently of satellites.

      When UCAS-D / UCLASS was cut back substantially in the early part of the summer, they chose to emphasize the ISR side of the UCLASS requirements base and put the strike requirements on hold.

      There were likely several reasons why UCLASS was cut back, the lack of mature artificial intelligence software being a primary reason IMHO; but also the pressing near-term need for substantial unmanned aerial ISR if all the satellites suddenly went poof.

      It is also easy to imagine these unmanned ISR platforms performing communications relay functions and possibly even GPS emulation functions.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 30 days in order to reduce spam.