The Navy could consider using a different system to catch incoming aircraft on its next generation of Gerald R. Ford-class (CVN-78) of aircraft carriers after the costs for the General Atomics-built Advanced Arresting Gear have more than doubled, USNI News has learned.
The troubled AAG system has lagged years behind the rest of the next generation components included on the Ford-class, Navy officials have said over the last year.
In the report the Senate Armed Services Committee released with its proposed Fiscal Year 2017 defense authorization bill, the SASC laid out a pattern of cost increases from about a $476 million in costs for research development and acquisition in 2009 for four systems to a 2016 cost estimate of $1.4 billion – about a 130 percent increase when adjusted for inflation.
Based on the cost increase, the SASC bill is pushing for a top-down review of the program by the Office of the Secretary of Defense to take a second look at AAG and recertify its need for the Ford-class.
Ultimately, USNI News understands, the goal is to have the planned AAG systems on the ships that follow carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) – John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and Enterprise (CVN-80) – replaced with a more traditional but enhanced version of the current Mk-7 MOD 3 arresting gear.
Publically the service is still committed to AAG for the Fords.
“The Navy continues to work diligently to deliver the arresting gear system to the CVN 78 class in accordance with program requirements,” read a Tuesday statement to USNI News from Navy spokeswoman Capt. Thurraya Kent.
“There is no decision to change that direction at this time.”
However, several services sources told USNI News this week, if the Navy is forced to change the arresting gear arrangement on Kennedy and Enterprise by OSD it won’t put up much of a fight –largely due to the ongoing cost problems and the developmental delays.
“The Advanced Arresting Gear has become a model for how not to do acquisition of needed technology,” a senior Navy official told USNI News on Tuesday.
“Exactly how we move forward is still being worked out.”
Last year Program Executive Officer for the Navy’s carrier program told reporters that the service and General Atomics discovered the water twister – a complex paddlewheel designed to absorb 70 percent of the force of a landing – was under engineered and would be unable to withstand prolonged use without failing.
“Doing a detailed engineering assessment we recognized the water twister was under-designed,” Rear Adm. Tom Moore said.
“GA was responsible for the design — remember they’re on a firm fixed price contract — so the vendor was responsible for the fix.”
The fix delayed the testing schedule by two years.
While a Mk-7 configuration may be in play for the follow-ons to Ford, the lead ship will be outfitted with the AAG configuration, currently being installed on the carrier.
The promise of the AAG and the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) on the other end of Ford was to allow the carrier to launch and recover aircraft that weren’t built to the high tolerances of the current arrested landing and catapult systems and expand the types of aircraft that can make an arrested land on a carrier.
“Typically in our manned aircraft designs, you have to build an airplane that fits within the operating envelope of the Mk-7 arresting gear and the Mk-13 catapults. So you kind of start with an operating envelope that gets you sort of a design of aircraft like we have now – F-18 Super Hornet, Growler, Joint Strike Fighter,” Rear Adm. Michael Manazir, the Navy’s director air warfare told reporters last year.
“The aircraft are structured that way, they’re strengthened … you build weight and structure into the airplanes to accommodate the violence of the arrested landing. With the Advanced Arresting Gear and the ability to land an airplane – it’s still a controlled crash, but relatively more softly, and to launch it relatively more softly, and so a graduated kind of force as the airplane goes up – you can now start to do things with aircraft design that you couldn’t do before. It might allow us some more margin in weight, in size, and in structure and capability.”
On the other end of the flight deck, the General Atomics EMALS is performing much better in testing on Ford and at Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) test facility at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, in Lakehurst, N.J.