U.S. Navy Carrier Program Clears Hurdles


WASHINGTON – While early program decisions to combine a host of technology improvements in one ship still haunt the next-generation aircraft carrier CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford, the U.S. Navy appears to be making strides with the program, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

“According to the program office, CVN-78 displaced 77,000 tons and was 70% complete at launch – the highest levels achieved in aircraft carrier new construction,” GAO says. “The program office also reported that labor inefficiencies during ship erection are past, and the principal risk remaining is in shipboard testing. Concerns over system integration within platform space, weight, and power reservations have been resolved.”

“Construction to date has been impeded by critical technology system delays, material shortages, and engineering challenges,” GAO explains.

The Navy awarded a construction contract for CVN-78 in September 2008, when only five of the ship’s 13 current critical technologies were mature and the ship’s 3-D product model was incomplete, GAO says.

“Since then, the lead ship’s procurement costs have grown by over 22%, from $10.5 billion to $12.8 billion,” GAO says. “At present, seven of the currently planned technologies are mature, with the rest approaching maturity, and the ship’s 3-D product model is complete.”

“To meet required installation dates aboard CVN-78, the Navy produced several of these technologies, such as the volume search radar (VSR), prior to demonstrating their maturity,” GAO reports. Maintaining design stability depends on currently immature technologies fitting within the space, weight, cooling, and power reservations allotted them within the ship, GAO says.

The VSR is a component of the dual-band radar (DBR), which has been delivered to CVN-78, and is undergoing design modifications needed to complete shipboard integration. The Navy says this year’s testing will show whether these modifications were successful or if a more extensive redesign of the system is required, which could delay DBR deliveries by up to four years, GAO says.

“Deficiencies affecting water twister components – used to absorb energy when arresting aircraft – of the advanced arresting gear (AAG) technology continue to disrupt the system’s development,” GAO says. “Recent water twister redesign proved unsuccessful in testing last year.”

The Navy resolved problems with the redesign and is planning for concurrent testing, GAO says. The service expects AAG land-based testing to be complete in August 2016 – a delay of nearly two years – and after the Navy has accepted delivery of CVN-78.

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) has successfully launched aircraft during land-based testing using a single launcher and four motor generators. “Land-based testing for EMALS and DBR has progressed enough that program officials do not anticipate significant redesign,” GAO notes.

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