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Navy Sticking With Advanced Arresting Gear in Next Carrier

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

This post has been updated to include a more complete explanation of the design flaw the Navy discovered in the AAG.

The Navy is electing to use the controversial Advanced Arresting Gear on its next Gerald R. Ford-class carrier, John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), USNI News has learned.

Earlier this month, the Navy’s chief weapons buyer notified Congress it was set to install the General Atomics-built AAG on JFK following an evaluation between the AAG and the legacy Mk-7 MOD3 hydraulic arresting system found on the Nimitz-class carriers.

In the last half of 2016, the future of the AAG on carriers beyond Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) was in doubt and drew scrutiny from the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Office of the Secretary of Defense as part of a larger look of the Ford program.

For its part, the Navy stood up a review board to evaluate use of the system past Ford.

The board – which included Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and the Navy’s head of research – reported back to the House and Senate defense committees that reverting to the Mk-7 arresting gear would be cost-prohibitive and result in disruption to construction of future carriers.

In 2015, Naval Sea Systems Command said a design flaw in the AAG’s water twister — a complex paddle wheel that is designed to absorb 70 percent of the force of an airplane’s tailhook landing against an arresting wire, which brings the airplane to a stop — was 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.

In November, the head of NAVSEA commander Vice Adm. Tom Moore, said the testing program for the AAG had shown marked improvements.

“When that ship delivers we’ll be ready to land aircraft on AAG. I think (CVN) 78 is doing much better, and I think we’ll have a fully functional system,” Moore said.
“I don’t want to presuppose any decision, but I believe if the system functions the way it does on 78 — and given where we are on CVN-79 and the construction of the ship — that it’s a very strong and viable path forward for us.”

Still, testing for the system on the ground — slated to be completed two years earlier — had to occur even as Ford was wrapping up pre-delivery testing. The failures in AAG development — in part — was responsible for several delays in delivery of Ford. 

In a Monday statement, NAVAIR lauded progress of the program.

“AAG works,” said Capt. Steve Tedford, Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (PMA 251) program manager, whose team manages the recovery system program said in a statement.
“The progress of AAG testing this past year has been significant and has demonstrated the system’s ability to meet Navy requirements. The team overcame many challenges to get the system to this point and ensure its readiness to support CVN 78 and future Ford-class ships.”

In a report the Senate Armed Services Committee released with its 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.

  • Hugh

    The hydraulic type stems from the 1950s. Technology improves, and some gremlins need to be addressed.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      I can’t help thinking AAG, EMALs and new radar would have made great “Technology Inserts” for later Ford Class CVNs, had they stuck to a deck redesign and power plant upgrade I think the program would be in much better shape.

      • Secundius

        My “Limited” Understanding of the Systems Operations, is that it “Simply” CAN’T be Designed Out of the Ship’s Construction Plans. To Many Onboard Systems Run in “Conjunction” with the EMALS and AAG System. That’s why the US Navy are “Putting ALL Their Eggs” into the Broken System. In SHORT, it would Cost Less to Fix THAN it would to Replace the System…

        • @USS_Fallujah

          I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have been more efficient to build the Ford with the legacy system and then add AAG & EMALS to subsequent ships as a design change. This type of changes were made in every one of the Nimitz class, with a 5 year construction timeframe it’s unavoidable. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call each Nimitz carrier a single ship class.

          • Andy

            One of the Major achievements of the new Ford class is the near complete elimination of steam as all previous CVs had. Ford is all electric, which means that forgoing the EMALS and AAG would have incurred a Major redesign of the whole ship. You think it’s late and over budget now, can you imagine adding ship steam to an electric boat???

          • @USS_Fallujah

            Remember I’m saying they should have proceeded with the existing system for the Ford in the original plan, with a change made for the 2nd or 3rd CVN, not trying to add in the old system after the ship was being completed, not trying to change the system mid-construction. It’s too late to go back now, and that’s been true for several years, so what’s needed (IMO) is a change is design philosophy, where the focus is on open architecture, rather than trying to implement every Leap Forward into one ship.

          • Refguy

            Did the hydraulic arresting engines require steam?

          • Secundius

            One REPORT mentioned Two Large Compartments in the Ships Hull Design that CAN’T be Out Designed/Removed from the Ships Construction Plans. STILL trying to Find Out what the Two Compartments are Used For. Most Likely Engineering Compartments, But to WHAT. Probably something to do with the Energy Regeneration System of the AAG’s…

  • Leatherstocking

    At $223M a copy, hate to lose those F-35s and their invaluable aviators over the side. VADM Moore “thinks” the system will be fully functional. Not the ringing endorsement I would expect at this point in the test program. As with any new system, it needs shakeout but that needs to happen before the first cruise.

    • muzzleloader

      The shakeout should have occurred at Lakehurst over a 2 or 3 year period and certified good to go before it was ever incorporated into CVN-78.

      • Leatherstocking

        Amen.

  • Secundius

    Even though there are “Gremlins” in the works? Great Plan, Go Navy…

  • b2

    Can someone briefly explain the delta between the old system I am familiar with on Nimitz class MK7, and the new arresting system? We landed some heavy aircraft in the 1970’s,80s and 90s. I mean this is like 10 years in for something fundamentally similar…

    Re Ford only 1/2 the story sort of. What about the new technology (maglev) to launch aircraft? Are they going to stay with that technology, too?

    • Horn

      Think of the Mk 7 as a one-size-fits-all arresting system whereas the AAG is supposed to be adjustable. That way you aren’t using the same amount of force you’d use to stop a 20 ton aircraft when trying to stop a 10 ton drone. Having variable resistance allows you to more smoothly stop an aircraft and reduce wear on landing gear. Plus I’ve heard it’s supposed to be less labor intensive and easier to maintain.

      • Refguy

        But the MK-7’s are constant runout; they require the AG crew to dial in the right setting for WOD, weight and aircraft type. They do NOT use the same force for all aircraft.

      • b2

        Thanks. Is there just one engine (as depicted) or multiple engines, one for each wire?

  • Secundius

    FYI: (24 January 2017) Paul Ryan is trying to “Ramrod” a Budget for 2017, that is SMALLER then that of 2006 (~$13.8-Trillion USD). There goes the Military, and CHINA just “Drew” a Line in the Sand Daring TRUMP to Cross It…

  • javier villanueva

    me parece genial que la armada hay optado por el AAG.

  • Joseph Hansen

    History teaches us that we have to trust new technologies before they are fully proven. Think about the carrier vs battleship arguments in the 1930’s, Churchill’s decision to use oil and 15″ guns on the Queen Elizabeth-class dreadnoughts, and switching to rifled guns from smooth-bore during the Civil War. We can work out the bugs over time, but we can’t go back and re-build an entire carrier.

    As for the China stuff, forget the hype and ask yourself a simple question-If the US declares an exclusion zone around the Spratly Islands, how long will the Chinese be able to stay there before they run out of food, fuel, etc. Our naval superiority and air superiority are such that we can still dictate logistics anywhere we choose in the world. And if you ain’t got logistics, you’re cooked…

  • Ken N

    From the recently released 2016 DOT&E annual report:

    “At the current reliability, AAG
    has an infinitesimal chance of completing the 4-day surge
    and less than a 0.2 percent chance of completing a day
    of sustained operations as defined in the design reference
    mission. Without a major redesign, AAG is unlikely to
    support high intensity operations expected in combat”

    I hope there were some breakthrough’s in the AAG design since this was written.