Home » Aviation » Navy May Back Away From Advanced Arresting Gear for Ford Carriers

Navy May Back Away From Advanced Arresting Gear for Ford Carriers

An artist's conception of an installed Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) on a U.S. carrier. General Atomics Image

An artist’s conception of an installed Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) on a U.S. carrier. General Atomics Image

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.”

F/A-18E Super Hornet lands with the Advanced Arresting Gear at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on March 31, 2016. US Navy Photo

F/A-18E Super Hornet lands with the Advanced Arresting Gear at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on March 31, 2016. US Navy Photo

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.

  • Curtis Conway

    Stay true to the course on development, as long as it takes, and just build four (4) Large Deck Aviation Platforms in the mean time as we wait for the New Super Carriers to come out mature and ready to go.

    Procedures for bringing F-35B on board must be developed, perhaps operating from the carrier in numbers. That should be a contingency that can be brought to bear if need be. No one would expect that employment model, for it introduces some Expeditionary Support capability here to fore not possible.

    • Secundius

      Oh No! Divisional Size Gator-Freighters? Why Transport a Small Brigade of 1,500, when you can Transport a Division of 10,000. By Converting Hanger Spaces to Troop Barracks…

      • UKExpat

        That is one heck of a lot of eggs in one basket. Remember the current balance of technology between the attackers and the defenders of task forces is currently slowly swinging to wards the attackers. I would not like to be the admiral having to explain how he has lost a ship with a whole division of 10,000 men on board.

        • Secundius

          Unless they FIX the “EMALS”, that’s ALL SHE IS. Either the World’s Largest Gator-Freighter or the World’s Largest V/STOL Aircraft Carrier…

      • Curtis Conway

        Secundius, I was not suggesting turning a CVN into a Amphibious Assault Ship. I was suggesting turning a USS American Class (LHA-6) ship into a mini-carrier bringing more throw-weight to whatever equation in which it is introduced. The V/STOVL AEW&C aircraft will make the LHA-6 independent carrier tasking possible against anyone but a near peer. That V/STOVL AEW&C aircraft will be a game changer where ever it goes (amphibious ship, Icebreaker, supply ship, mobile base, or mountain top) by providing E-2D Hawkeye services to that arena.

        • Secundius

          You must be “Bored” to respond and reply to a 2-year old comment…

          • Curtis Conway

            I was.

          • Secundius

            LMAO. OK. No problem…

    • Larry Otto

      Did we have a lot of trouble with the CVN-68’s or, even the CVN-65. CVN-65, Enterprise, was to be the lead ship in a new class of eight CV’s with 8 reactors each but she was SOOO expensive (444 million dollars) that the other seven ships were cancelled until we could figure out how to build multi $Billion ships named after people instead of famous battles or famous ships.

      • Curtis Conway

        Ouch! As HiStory has shown us, nuclear plant development as gotten safer, much more efficient, and with the advent of the latest ones, life-time installation. The Enterprise as it turns out was a one-off, along with the USS Long Beach (CGN-9) who was her constant companion.

        We now have a new carrier battle group that will all have the same, or similar radar (SPY-6) in the future, which will ease the strain on the supply chain for spares of disparate types of equipment, for most all of them are fundamentally the same, just scaled (3-RMA/9-RMA/37-RMA or 69-RMA[BMD]). Life cycle investments for that radar will support the force, not just a platform element of a specific class of ship, stretching our Life-cycle support dollars.

        As the EMALS and AAS evolve and improve, we will get even more efficient on the CVNs as they are added to the fleet, with their smaller ship’s force complement, more efficient operations, and less maintenance.

        An ARG will soon possess the largest throw-weight, and be more effective at greater ranges, with a shorter action/reaction time, of any compact amphibious force that has ever existed, particularly with the addition of the F-35B(s). We only need a V/STOVL AEW&C asset to improve that package, and that asset would be a game changer at sea and ashore where ever it would be deployed force wide.

        Like compound interest, these little savings all add up to huge returns force-wide come maintenance & operations time (unlike LCS where everything is UNIQUE). Return on THAT investment has yet to rear its head, and I predict will become a logistical and training albatros around the Navy’s neck. However, they did keep a lot of people working for the better part of a decade. It’s a shame they weren’t building National Security Cutters, or an FFG(X) type ship . . . something useful, and can take damage and still float. A Navy heiarchy that will build something that cannot defend itself from the most likely thing to attack it, and cannot float after taking damage is just beyond me and imoral in my book. Every argument FOR the LCS is a convoluted mess.


  • Swiftright Right

    I’m not even being snarky but can some one explain to me, like seriously explain how arresting gear cost as much as some surface combatants?

    • RocketMan McFodder

      The arresting gear MUST be reliable and safe. It’s really advanced engineering to be able to stop a 21+ ton plane from 150 knots (172 mph) to zero in a short amount of time while not ripping the plane apart or injuring its’ flight crew. The current landing systems requires planes to be built reinforced to handle the stress of a “controlled crash.” The new system is designed for a “softer controlled crash” which would allow the Navy a greater number and types of planes it could technically land with this new system. It must be able to do this hundreds if not thousands of times before needing maintenance. Without it, there would be no aircraft carrier. It’s as vital to operations as the nuclear power plant or the missile defense systems. You cannot just run a cable across the deck and have a successful aircraft carrier. These costs are for design, engineering and building the system and should be much less for any future builds once the final build is approved, tested and installed, but won’t become the standard until it is fully combat tested.

  • vincedc

    Wow, the one item in the entire Navy that was under engineered.

    • Steven Padgett

      Perhaps more than one…..

      Still, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) took aim the program in a blistering statement Tuesday, saying “The Navy’s announcement of another two-month delay in the delivery of CVN-78 further demonstrates that key systems still have not demonstrated expected performance. The advanced arresting gear (AAG) cannot recover airplanes. Advanced weapons elevators cannot lift munitions. The dual-band radar cannot integrate two radar bands. Even if everything goes according to the Navy’s plan, CVN-78 will be delivered with multiple systems unproven.”

      Oh I get it that was sarcasm…

  • Michael Fredenburg

    One does not have to be an expert in aircraft carrier design and operations to know that the launch and retrieval systems for a carrier’s planes are kinda of important. That neither the EMALS or the AAG were properly vetted prior to shoving them into the design of the new Nimitz variant – the Ford Class, is criminal and the people responsible for signing off on this should have their careers ruined over this kind of gross negligence. That the Ford Class is going to cost in the neighborhood of double that of a Nimitz class while arguably providing less capability than the Nimitz class for many years to come is an example of why we have been spending more to get less. We certainly would have been better off with a couple of new Nimitz class carriers and the incremental upgrades that would come with them.. Given the dismal failure of post Burke vendor led ship design, perhaps it is time to make the Navy the lead designer for ships once again.

    • so true…the NAVY yards are much better, the contract yards are ONLY interested it making money.

      • UKExpat

        This not a question of Navy or Contract working but the constant efforts to try and program the un-programmable and cost the un-costable. What I mean is trying to program how long it takes to find or make a possible new invention work and develop is never going to be anything like an exact science. When you try to jump the gun and start large scale production of projects inundated with various extreme new technologies it is bound to be a recipe for disaster. Surely the sensible way forward is to start building projects using known technology and to add or incorporate any new technology as future options during refits and the like. In other words keep new technologies out of new build until they have been properly developed. The time frames will be quicker and the costs cheaper when the chaos has been cleared

        • Michael Fredenburg

          Well said!

    • Larry Otto

      I would like to point out that the EMALS is MORE important to the aircraft and, especially, the air crew. While there is an opportunity to add power and return to flying after a blown AAG landing attempt, there is NO opportunity for the pilot to recover from a failed launch.

  • Rob C.

    Their going need resort to using what their currently using on the Nimitz Class, properly for the best.
    Anything that get’s invented or new ends up going under the microscope due any cost runs.
    I’ve never heard of many system that didn’t go up in costs, especially when budget is getting cut.

  • hold their feet to the fire, general atomics has NO real arresting gear/catapult experience….they are just a fat defense contractor that wants to keep the money rolling in.

  • Secundius

    J. Neal Blue and Linden S. Blue (Brothers) acquired General Atomics from Chevron Oil in 1986 for Just ~$60-Million USD. And NOW it’s a Several Billion USD Corporation. These Guy’s are NO FOOLS, They Know the System WORK’S and How the Game is PLAYED…

    • Steven Padgett

      Yes they have used the system…

      One of General Atomics’ biggest fans was Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a Republican whose district included General Atomics headquarters in San Diego. Cunningahm’s office took more than $50,000 worth of trips from 2002 to 2005.

      November 28th, 2005 – Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) pleaded guilty today to fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery and tax evasion. Shortly after entering his plea, Cunningham announced that he is immediately resigning his seat, though he had already announced that he would not seek reelection next year.

      Guess what? General Atomics had a much more frequent flier on the senior staff of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA), Lewis’ longtime colleague and pal on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, which doles out Pentagon dollars. (Duke’s now doing eight years plus of hard time in the pokey for taking bribes from defense contractors).

      • Secundius

        And Currently Living in Arkansas, with Possibly Some of the Money He Hid Out of Government Reach…

        • RocketMan McFodder

          I am sure he hid tons of cash in Cayman Island accounts… and I wouldn’t be surprised to find… in accounts ran by our current Treasury secretary.

      • Larry Otto

        You mean eight years of soft time at Club Fed…

      • Secundius

        As I recall Randy Cunningham was released for Prison in June 2013…

  • John F

    Buying expensive stuff that doesn’t exist anywhere outside a lab.