Electromagnetic Catapults Are Emblematic Of U.S. Navy’s All-Electric Era

(FORBES 07 DEC 13) … William Pentland

In November, the U.S. Navy christened the first Ford-class aircraft carrier at Newport News Shipbuilding, marking the end of the beginning of for new era of naval warfare.

The USS Gerald Ford, which weighs more than 100,000 tons and spans a length of more than 1,000 feet, is the first of the U.S. Navy’s new generation of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, which are also called supercarriers. With a price tag of $13.7 billion, the Ford-class carrier is the most expensive military vessel built in the history of the world.

Equipped with two cutting-edge nuclear reactors, the carrier will be capable of producing 250% more electric power than previous carriers.

And it will need every one of those electrons to power what is perhaps the supercarrier’s most revolutionary technology (at least among those that are unclassified) – the Electromagentic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS).

General Atmoics, the San Diego, CA based defense contractor, pioneered the EMALS for the Ford-class aircraft carriers.

The EMALS uses a 300-foot linear induction motor (LIM) catapults airplanes off the carrier at a speed of 150 miles per hour. The LIM, which is integrated in the flight-deck structure, converts electrical current into electromagnetic forces to launch aircraft with significantly more precision than the conventional steam-powered system. The enhanced precision allows EMALS to launch more kinds of aircraft, from heavy fighter jets to light unmanned aircraft.

Of the carrier’s many technological marvels, the EMALS is perhaps the most emblematic of the Navy’s planned all-electric ships.

The whole EMALS juggernaut depends on the delivery of massive 122 megajoule-jolts of electricity to catapult planes into the sky. The jolts are so huge that the EMALS includes an elaborate energy storage system to supplement power provided by the nuclear reactors. The system stores a staggering 400 megajoules on four disk alternators.

After launching an aircraft, the alternators can be recharged in only 45 seconds. The supercarrier will be able to launch 220 sorties per day, about 25% more air missions per day than the current carriers.

China’s military is reportedly in hot pursuit of its own EMALS.

William Pentland is the Director of Markets and Regulation for the World Alliance for Decentralized Energy.

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