Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ford Update

The 2014 Annual Report from Director, Operational Testing and Evaluation (DOT&E) has been released.  As a reminder, this is the gold standard for what works and what doesn’t as opposed to manufacturer and Navy claims.  This is the straight story when it comes to weapon and system performance.  We’ll be taking a look at several systems in the near future.  Today, we’ll start with the new aircraft carrier, the Ford.

According to the report, the Navy has reneged on its plan to conduct shock testing.  Shock testing (Full Ship Shock Trial – FSST) was to have been performed on CVN-78, however, the Navy has postponed that testing until CVN-79, at the earliest.  As the report states it,

"The original Alternative Live Fire Strategy prepared by the Navy and approved by DOT&E on December 9, 2008, stated the FSST would be conducted on CVN-78. The Navy unilaterally reneged on the approved strategy on June 18, 2012."

You’ll recall that the Navy has opted not to perform shock testing on the LCS, at all.  This is a standard test that has been performed on every ship.  The suspicious among us might suggest that the Navy is trying to avoid shock testing because the construction and acquisition standards have slipped to the point where shock testing would be embarrassing and Navy ships are no longer capable of passing the tests.

The report discusses the new EMALS catapult and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) systems,

"Reliability for the catapult and arresting gear systems have not been reported on in over a year. Before the Navy stopped tracking/reporting on catapult and arresting gear performance, both systems were performing well below their projected target to achieve required reliability."

Now what do we make of that?  The Navy has stopped reporting reliability data??  I guess that’s one way to avoid looking bad.  This kind of action combined with the refusal to perform shock tests sure suggests an attempt to cover up bad news rather than report it and correct it.

Here’s some more EMALS news.

"The testing discovered excessive EMALS holdback release dynamics during F/A-18E/F and EA-18G catapult launches with wing-mounted 480-gallon EFTs. Aircraft dynamics are considered excessive if they exceed stress limits of the airframe, internal, or external stores. This discovery, if uncorrected, would preclude normal employment of the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G from CVN-78. There is no funding at this time to correct this deficiency."

No funding?!  It’s kind of a big deal to leave unfunded.

It’s not just advanced technology that is suffering.  The ship has been found to have insufficient berthing for the crew!

"The ship will not be delivered with sufficient empty berthing for the CVN-78’s Service Life Allowance (SLA)."

Come on, now!  Who messed up with a simple count of the crew and a corresponding count of the berths? 

One of the major selling points for the new carrier was that it would supposedly increase sortie rates significantly.  This was always a dubious claim and of highly questionable value given that carrier ops aren’t sortie rate limited and that shrinking air wings make sortie rates irrelevant.  The report had this to say,

"It is unlikely that CVN-78 will achieve its Sortie Generation Rate (SGR) (number of aircraft sorties per day) requirement.  The target threshold is based on unrealistic assumptions including fair weather and unlimited visibility, and that aircraft emergencies, failures of shipboard equipment, ship maneuvers, and manning shortfalls will not affect flight operations."

Reread that last sentence.  It’s clear that the sortie rate claim was never valid and was a fraudulent attempt to promote the program.  The Navy’s honesty and integrity are taking some serious hits over the last decade or two.

You’ll recall that we’ve repeatedly discussed the pitfalls of concurrent development and production.  Here’s an example regarding the ship’s Dual Band Radar (DBR).

"The Navy planned to begin testing in January 2013; however, the testing has slipped repeatedly, and to date, no live testing with the full production DBR has been completed."

So, we’re going to install a radar system that is untested. 

Here’s an interesting tidbit that is undoubtedly budget driven.  JPALS [the automated landing system] has been deferred until the F-35 or unmanned aircraft require it. 

"The Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) is no longer funded for CVN-78."

The Ford is a clear cut case study for how not to run a new construction program.  Of course, so was the LCS and the LPD-17 and he Navy failed to learn any lessons from those so I doubt they’ll learn anything from this one, either.


  1. Cut and paste comments taken from from the following recent reports on the CVN-78 Ford A/C Carrier.

    CBO An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2015 Shipbuilding Plan Dec. '14.

    "The Navy estimated that the $12.9 billion cost in nominal dollars for the lead ship would equate to just over $15 billion in 2014 dollars. The Navy has stated that there is a 50 percent probability that the cost of the CVN-78 will exceed its estimate. The Navy’s estimate does not include $4.7 billion in research and development costs that apply to the entire class."

    GAO Ford Class A/C Carrier Nov.'14.

    "The extent to which CVN 78 will be delivered within the Navy’s revised schedule and cost goals is dependent on deferring work and costs to the ship’s post-delivery period.
    In response, the Navy is deferring work until after ship delivery to create a reserve to help ensure that funds are available to pay for any additional cost growth temming from remaining construction risks. In essence, the Navy will have a ship that is less complete than initially planned at ship delivery, but at a greater cost.
    The strategy of deferring work will result in the need for additional funding later, which the Navy plans to request through its post-delivery and outfitting budget account—Navy officials view this plan as an approach to managing the cost cap. However, increases to the post-delivery and outfitting budget account are not captured in the total end cost of the ship, thereby obscuring the true costs of the ship."

    A detailed read of the reports highlights the same concerns as you listed.
    The cost including R & D for the CVN-78, I would have thought unlikely to get any change from $22 billion, the last Nimitz A/C Carrier USS George H.W. Bush CVN-77 cost $6.2 billion (Wikipedia), commissioned Jan.' 09.

    PS The UK NAO (National Audit Office) Jan. '15 report quotes £6.102 billion / $9.153 billion for the two QE class 70,000 tonne A/C carriers


    1. Nick, this is a fantastic point about deferring work until post-delivery. I'm going to have to do a post about that! Thanks!

  2. The recent GAO report on the Ford Class indicates that a number of its system installation work packages involving a variety of more-or-less standard shipboard systems are running late for various reasons -- late delivery of systems, more time to install than originally estimated, etc. etc.

    Opinions have been expressed that one of the most important reasons for these system delivery and installation delays is a very simple one -- we are not building these ships fast enough to keep the skilled industrial base busy enough and well-tuned enough so as to be as productive as we once were in constructing the previous Nimitz Class.

    Under constrained Navy budgets, there will be pressure to cut maintenance and operations costs, and to sacrifice fleet numbers, in order to pay for these larger more expensive new warships.

    What we are seeing with the Ford Class is more evidence of something we have been witnessing for more than a decade. The Navy's current shipbuilding plan will result in the Navy's deployable combat horsepower being concentrated into a smaller fleet, one which is comprised of larger, more expensive to own and operate warships.

    The planned fifty-two LCS will have little or no impact on this long-standing issue, simply for the fact that they don't carry much in the way of deployable combat throughput capacity, either offensive or defensive.

  3. Isn't the obvious solution smaller carriers? Given the size of current air wings, do we need anything bigger than the QE's (70,000 tons)?

    The Brits are putting an air wing of 40-50 on them, but they don't park aircraft on the flight deck like we do. Couldn't we get 70 or so onboard utilizing the flight deck? We got that many and more above only slightly larger (80,000 tons) bird farms in the 1960s.

    Let's say we want it with catapults and nuke power. Four catapults cost about $600 million. Let's say nuke power adds $1.8 billion to acquisition costs. Start with $4.6 billion each for the QE class, and you are looking at about $7 billion for a nuke version with catapults. And a lot of the design development work has already been done by the French, who were looking at such an option. if we got into such a program, it would probably make the deal doable for the French too, and we'd have an ally with a more capable ship.

    So we get the current air wing to sea in a ship that costs roughly half as much. Why is that not a good deal?

  4. There is a RAND study commissioned by the CNO on the trend of ship building cost increases in the USN. The study over a 50 year period of shipbuilding shows that 2/3 of the cost increase is from a combination of complexity, equipment and requirement standards. CVN78 is expensive relative to its predecessor because of the number of new technologies that it want to incorporate into the new design. Tonnage is not the principal cost.

    1. If you are responding to my post, I probably didn't make myself clear enough. Along with smaller I also want simpler, and not just limited to carriers.

      Across the fleet, I see some kind of high/low mix as the way to go. Along with size, I would see a technology differential too. Right now it appears that we are building everything at the high end in terms of technology. For simplicity, say we are building everything with 80% new technology and 20% proved technology. And from LCS to LPD to JSF to Ford, how's that new technology working?

      Let's build out the numbers with simpler stuff, conceptually maybe 80% proved systems and 20% new technology (if that much). Say have 6 Fords and 6 smaller and simpler carriers--with the emphasis on simpler, although smaller comes with the territory. Not every destroyer needs to be an Arleigh Burke. It's great to be able to handle 100 incoming threats at the same time, but you don't need that capability to do pirate patrol in the IO. Same with amphibs, instead of putting all the eggs in one expensive basket, distribute the force among several smaller and simpler platforms--go with a smaller LHA like Juan Carlos/Canberra, add an LPH like Mistral/Dokdo, a simpler LPD like Albion, a simpler LSD like Galicia/Rotterdam/Bay, an LKA/LPA, and a real LST, each of which has unique functions that may be needed. And we could take a leaf from the RN/RFA playbook and let the LSD, LKA/LPA, and LST be operated by MSC. Also let all of the auxiliaries be operated by MSC.

      And move a bunch of the lower end ships to NRF, with a significantly expanded naval reserve. Build some Type 212/214 AIP subs and put them in NRF. Build the mine force up to sufficient numbers (probably 50-60 MS/MH) in the NRF. Build a green water force in the NRF.

      Save operating costs as well as construction. The trick to having the strongest military at the lowest cost is to keep a bunch of it at reduced readiness until you need it.

    2. I agree completely. I've long advocted a peacetime force and proven, coventional technology new builds. Well said!

    3. Taking historic costs and inflating, you could probably build a Constellation or JFK today for $4 billion, maybe $6 billion if you made it nuke. And that would obviously be with proved technology and with the ability to embark a current air wing and more. I'd tend to lead toward nuke, because the additional capacity for escort fuel and aircraft fuel could play very big in a lot of scenarios. Six of those and six Fords would be cheaper to build than nine Fords, with significantly greater capability.

    4. The problem is that you and I look at the costs, apply a reasonable inflation factor, and come up with what we feel are reasonable costs. The Navy gets ahold of the project and suddenly that $4B-$6B becomes $8B-$12B. That shouldn't happen but it does. Every program over the last couple decades has shown that behavior. It doesn't make it right but it does make it reality. Now, the question is how do we change the Navy's reality? That's the challenge!

    5. CDR Chip and ComNavOps, what both of you are apparently advocating involves a major transformation in the overall composition of the USN's total fleet force architecture.

      If the USN's fleet remains below 300 ships, how long would it take, and how much money would it cost, to fully replace the existing USN fleet force architecture with your new one?

    6. Scott, you're right. I do advocate a major restructuring of the fleet as I've laid out in previous posts. As far as cost, it would cost no more than we spend now - simply restructured. How long would it take? I don't know but many years, for sure. A fleet isn't completely restructured overnight!

      The current fleet is shrinking steadily due to budget and design trends. We can continue to ride the status quo right to the bottom, as we are, or re-evaluate and make fundamental changes. I opt for change.

    7. CDR Chip,

      Using your numbers, it makes no sense to buy nuclear carriers. You can buy three conventional carriers for the price of two nukes. You could buy fifteen CVs for the price of ten CVNs. Numbers matter. Payloads, not platforms. Spending 50-100% more on nuclear-powered surface ships is a waste.

      Nukes carry no fuel for escorts. CVs do, however escorts likely would be refueled by CLF ships, in any case.

      Nukes don't necessarily carry more fuel for aircraft. The reason the Nimitz class carries more than the Kitty Hawk class is because Nimitz class is bigger. The Navy has admitted that a similarly-sized, conventional carrier could carry an equivalent amount of fuel for aircraft.

  5. Scott,

    Look at it this way. Assume the navy's annual shipbuilding budget is $15 billion in 2014 dollars. If the average ship life is 35 years, that's $525 billion over that time frame. If we're going to maintain a 300 ship fleet, the the average ship price has to be $1.75 billion. Anything more than that has to be offset by something less than that.

    Now look at total fleet size. Let's say we build 11 Fords at $12.7 billion a pop. That's $140 billion. And let's say we build 30 Virginias at $2.4 billion a pop, that's another $72 billion, we're up to $212 billion. And 12 Ohio replacements at $7 billion is another $84 billion, we're up to $296 billion. And 20 Burke III's at $3 billion a pop is another $60 billion, we're up to 73 ships for $356 billion. 10 LHA's at $3 billion is $30 billion, we're up to 83 ships for $386 billion. 10 San Antonios at $1.75 billion is $17.5 billion, so we're at 93 ships for $403 billion. We need 207 more ships for $122 billion, or about $590 million a ship. So far, we haven't gotten LCS's for that.

    1. One other thing to note regarding above. According to article by Norman Polmar in this month's Naval Institute's Proceedings, expected life of LCS-1 class is 25 years and expected life of LCS-2 class is 17 years. That means you need 1.4 LCS-1's or 2 LCS-2's to keep 1 ship in the fleet for 35 years. That makes the LCS cost even higher.

  6. Smitty, if CVN's don't refuel escorts, what was my DD getting when we unrepped from the Enterprise to refuel? And in a one-fuel navy, aircraft fuel is escort fuel.

    Conventional carriers use space for own fuel. That same space exists on nukes. They need zero own fuel, so that space can go to some combination of additional aircraft fuel and escort fuel. And again, in a one-fuel navy, either one can be the other.

    I agree that the nuke/conventional call is a close one no my low end ships. There are times when the extra legs that nuke gives could be invaluable. Other times it's a hindrance, like trying to get diplomatic clearance to visit an anti-nuke country. I'd be fine with nuke carriers for my 6 high-end carriers and conventional for my 6 low-end ones.

    1. So you took on JP-5? I thought escorts ran on DFM, for the most part.

      Nukes devote a lot of space and weight to the nuclear power plant.

      From here, (pg 69)

      "Additionally, a 1992 Center for Naval Analyses research memorandum documenting the feasibility of five alternative aircraft carrier concepts developed by the Naval Sea Systems Command stated that, other than endurance range, a carrier built with a Nimitz-type hull but powered by a Kennedy-type oil-fired steam plant would be essentially equivalent to the Nimitz-class design. With enough propulsion fuel for a range of 8,000 nautical miles—a distance equal to about one-third the way around the world—at 20 knots (the equivalent of the current conventional carriers), the conventional variant would have the same magazine and aviation fuel (JP-5) capacities as today’s CVN-68 class."

    2. CDR Chip, nuclear carriers are different from fossil carriers in some fundamental ways; and if you slow down the production rate for nuclear carriers, you will also be systematically raising their unit production cost.

      Does adopting an approach which systematically raises the unit production cost for a nuclear carrier still make sense within your proposed fleet mix, given the possibilities for savings elsewhere within your proposed fleet architecture, theoretical savings which compensate for the unavoidable increase in CVN production costs?

      I still hold to my opinion that the single most important threat to the future viability of the carrier battlegroup is the emerging prospect of its air wings becoming obsolete to ever-evolving A2/AD doctrine and technology.

      In my view, if F/A-XX isn't moved up on the Navy's priority list, all these debates over the supposed cost benefits of CV's over CVN's will become secondary to the debate over whether or not a carrier air wing can still perform its assigned missions in the 2020's, the 2030's, and the 2040's as effectively as it does today.

    3. I agree that F/A-XX hasn't moved up high enough on the Navy's priority list.

      However I still think, even with Super Hornet derivatives, the carrier air wing will still be more effective at Navy missions than the alternatives I've seen.

      SAGs? Umm, no. See Force Z.

      SSGNs? Way too expensive for what they deliver.

      SSNs all the way? Good for sea denial. Bad for just about everything else.

      Bombers? Low sortie rates and low numbers makes this a tactically unstable option.

      Land-based tactical airpower? Yes, but they have to be in hardened basing and there has to be a lot of them (both fighters and bases).

      We may lose lots of Super Hornets fighting Chinese SU-30+ and J-20s, but that's better than losing Burkes in SAGs.

      For everything short of fighting China, the planned CAW is still a better tool than any of the alternatives.

      Just MHO.

    4. Smitty, yes we took JP-5. We could burn it, DFM, bunch of stuff. Our ChEng actually preferred JP-5.

      The GAO report you cited (page 23) shows JFK (conventional) with 2.4 million gallons ship fuel (DFM) and 1.8 million gallons JP-5, with Nimitz by comparison with 3.5 million gallons JP-5 (which as noted in footnotes can be used as escort fuel as well as aircraft fuel). Some difference is surely due to Nimitz's larger size (95,000 T versus 82,000 T). But that's still showing Nimitz with twice as much capacity to fuel escorts and aircraft as JFK.

    5. To clarify, JFK actually has somewhat more total fuel capacity (4.2 million gals to 3.5 million gals) but 2.4 million of JFK's total is DFM needed to run JFK and therefore presumably not available for escorts, except maybe in an emergency.

    6. Actually, rereading my post above, need to clarify. DFM is a term that in some contexts includes a variety of fuels. My first ship was a steam-powered destroyer that had been converted to burn distillate, preferably JP-5. We ran into a problem in Mozambique when what was delivered as marine diesel turned out to be black oil.

  7. Point of clarification on the article...LCS is planned to have shock testing in 2016.


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