The Navy has, essentially, stopped releasing any data or information on the Ford, even to DOT&E which has noted that the Navy is no longer providing EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) and AAG (Advanced Arresting Gear) performance and reliability data.
That leaves us to infer the state of the Ford so … let’s do some inferring!
How is EMALS coming along? Well, you’ll recall that the last data we had from DOT&E, before the Navy stopped providing data – which should, itself, infer something negative about the system - , showed that the system was failing at a staggering rate.
Out of 747 shipboard launches performed with the EMALS, ten had suffered critical failures. The target reliability average was one critical failure per 4,166 launch cycles. The launch system is over 50 times less reliable than the target failure rate. Every time they try to launch the full complement of airplanes they will have a critical failure.
The landing system also fails every 70-75 times it is used. This is over 200 times less reliable than planned. General Atomics engineers made it impossible to repair the AAG landing failures without shutting down flight operations. The AAG power supply can’t be disconnected from the high-voltage supply while flights continue. (3)
Is the EMALs doing any better, now?
Ford’s EMALS experienced a crash over the summer [June 2020], prohibiting the carrier from performing flight operations for five days. (1)
… the ship’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) suffered a failure that prevented the carrier from launching planes for five days …
On June 2, the crew discovered a fault in the power handling system that connects the ship’s energy-generating turbines to the EMALS power system.
“After several days of troubleshooting and assessing a fault in the launch system’s power handling elements, embarked EMALS experts and Ford’s crew restored the system to enable the safe fly-off of the air wing on Sunday morning, June 7… (2)
As we have previously noted, the interconnected nature of the catapults assures that if one goes down, they all go down and this was case in this incident. It is also noteworthy that it required several days of troubleshooting to restore the system enough to fly off the air wing. The wording seems to suggest that the restoration was a temporary fix although that is far from clear.
It is also worth noting the presence of ‘embarked EMALS experts’ which would not normally be present during routine operations. This has two implications:
- That the troubleshooting and repair was likely beyond the capabilities of the Navy crew. This does not bode well for combat damage repair efforts.
- That the presence of embarked experts absolutely indicates that the EMALS is still not working correctly and reliably or else the experts would not need to be on the ship three years into its commissioning and during pre-deployment workups and trials which should be about training for naval operations rather than still struggling to get the EMALS system to perform at basic, contract-mandated levels of reliability.
The inference from the above is that EMALS is still woefully short of contract-mandated levels of performance and reliability.
Okay, what about the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) system?
Capt. Josh Sager, the commanding officer of Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW-8), said Nov. 17 that Ford had all three of its AAG wires operating with no issues for the preceding four to six days. (1)
Cummings [Commanding Officer Capt. J.J. Cummings] described the reliability for both the Dual Band Radar and AAG as getting better throughout every at-sea period. (1)
The fact that Capt. Sager thought it noteworthy enough to publicly state that the AAG had worked for ‘the preceding four to six days’ suggests that this level of performance is exceptional and should be noted. Proudly noting that the landing gear worked for a few days in a row is extremely worrisome. It suggests that this is not the norm.
That Capt. Cummings described the reliability of the AAG as ‘getting better throughout every at-sea period’ again strongly suggests that the AAG is a major problem, though slowly improving.
The inference, here, is that the AAG is still woefully short of contract-mandated reliability levels and is at a barely functional level.
Overall, how is the Ford doing with launches and recoveries?
Since the beginning of 2020, Ford has conducted 5,000 launches and recoveries of aircraft – most of which the crew has done in the last eight months — and is slated to achieve 6,000 by the end of this calendar year, Cummings said. (1)
The question, of course, is not how many total launches and recoveries have been performed but how many have been done between catapult and arresting system failures. What is the failure rate? The evidence suggests that the failure rate is still far greater than specified and is likely to continue to be a problem for a few more years, at least. This is extremely worrisome if the Ford should ever be called to combat.
The evidence suggests that the Ford is not capable of reliable, sustained open ocean launch/recoveries, meaning that the ship has to stay within reach of land divert bases so as not to lose aircraft when EMALS and AAG failures occur. Three years into commissioning, this is inexcusable and everyone associated with this program should be fired.
So much for launch and recover. What about those disastrous weapon elevators?
With the seventh of 11 weapons elevators slated for certification before the end of this calendar year, … the remaining four will be completed by the end of April 2021. Newport News Shipbuilding has 200 shipyard workers aboard the carrier to aid in finishing the elevators … (1)
How bad are these elevators that 200 specialist workers are working on them 24/7 and the best projection is that they’ll be ready by the middle of 2021? What does this suggest for battle damage repair when the Ford doesn’t have 200 weapon elevator engineers on board?
Ford is in bad shape with major systems failing to meet specification. The worst aspect of the Ford’s launch and recovery issues is that the design is fundamentally and irrevocably flawed from a maintenance perspective. The individual catapults and arresting gear cannot be electrically isolated and worked on. The entire carrier must be powered down to work on any single component.
The reliability concerns are exacerbated by the fact that the crew cannot readily electrically isolate EMALS components during flight operations due to the shared nature of the Energy Storage Groups and Power Conversion Subsystem inverters on board CVN 78. The process for electrically isolating equipment is time-consuming; spinning down the EMALS motor/generators takes 1.5 hours by itself. The inability to readily electrically isolate equipment precludes EMALS maintenance during flight operations. (4)
The reliability concerns are magnified by the current AAG design that does not allow electrical isolation of the Power Conditioning Subsystem equipment from high power buses, limiting corrective maintenance on below-deck equipment during flight operations. (4)
This issue will continue to plague Ford throughout its service life since it is not correctable. This also renders the Ford highly suspect as a viable combat unit. If this design flaw has been continued into the subsequent ships of the class, we are building a class of carriers that has very poor damage repair capability and can be rendered combat incapable by minor battle damage or even simple, routine electrical or mechanical failures.
Absent any information from the Navy, we are left to quite reasonably infer that the Ford is a floating pile of hot, steaming excrement. If the Navy would have us believe otherwise then they need to resume releasing performance and reliability data to DOT&E and the public. The clamp down on data pretty much tells us just how bad the situation is and is reminiscent of the Navy’s response to the epidemic of INSURV failures which led to the Navy classifying the results instead of fixing them.
(1)USNI News website, “USS Gerald R. Ford Making Steady Progress Ahead of Deployment”, Mallory Shelbourne, 24-Nov-2020,
(2)USNI News website, “USS Gerald Ford EMALS Launching System Suffers Fault During Testing Period”, Sam LaGrone, 8-Jun-2020,
(3)Next Big Future website, “Ford Carrier is a Failure With Huge Radar, Elevator, Launch and Landing Problems”, Brian Wang, 31-Oct-2019,
(4)DOT&E FY 2019 Annual Report, 20-Dec-2019