In Press: Some Thoughts On USS Ford (CVN 78) (excerpt)
(Source: Next; posted August 2, 2017)
by Craig Hooper
The newly-commissioned USS Ford (CVN 78) recovered and launched its first aircraft less than a week after commissioning. And while that achievement is all well and good, don’t get too carried away by the hype.

Wait for the Ford’s first deployment before really cheering this new carrier and all its new tech. As I told Project on Government Oversight’s Mark Thompson:

“The post-commissioning air op hasn’t swayed skeptics. “The proof that this launch and recovery solution is THE solution won’t come in a showpiece set of one or two demonstration launches,” says Craig Hooper, a naval expert and senior analyst with Gryphon Scientific in Takoma Park, Md. “It’ll be when they show Ford can do this thousands of times while going few days without breaking either the launch or the recovery systems.”

The accelerated “first launch and recovery” operation grew from whispered press-corps concerns that USS Ford (CVN 78) was commissioned without launching a fixed-wing aircraft. Those concerns–while valid–were relatively trumped-up.

Though it has been usual practice to fly after delivery, those carrier critics do have a “fly before buy” point. Until now, first-in-class nuclear aircraft carriers worked through launch-and-recovery challenges before commissioning. The first-in-class USS Enterprise (CVN 65) was commissioned Nov 25, 1961, and launched its first aircraft on Oct 31, 26 days before commissioning. The first-in-class USS Nimitz (CVN 68) was commissioned on May 3, 1975, and launched and recovered its first aircraft on 12 April 1975, a good 22 days before commissioning.

But practices have changed over time. USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), back in 1982, was the first nuclear aircraft carrier to carry out the initial aircraft launch and recovery ceremony post-commissioning, and the rest of the Nimitz Class generally launched their first aircraft two weeks to a little over a month after commissioning. The pace has generally picked up for the later Nimitz class carriers. The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) was out launching and recovering aircraft twelve days after a July 12, 2003 commissioning (Its first aircraft was launched/recovered on July 24, 2003.)

The USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) was a different story. This “transition” to the Ford was commissioned January 10, 2009 but launched and recovered its first aircraft on 5/19/2009—a record 129 days after commissioning. Horrible performance, right?? Nope! We forget that the commissioning of CVN 77 was, in a kind gesture to the outgoing President and his family, completed before CVN 77’s 5/11/2009 delivery to the Navy. So, while technically CVN 77 was launching and recovering a mere eight days after delivery, the “written” record unfairly shows a far less favorable progression towards completion.

USS Ford beat that eight-day record set by CVN 77. And that’s great–kudos to Huntington Ingalls for beating a record and marching in the right direction!

But that’s just not enough.

What Was Missing?

What was missing from the Navy’s announcement was any evidence that this flight was more than a “one off” thing–an exquisite small-batch launch/recovery iteration of a single type of aircraft.

That’s insufficient. The Navy’s not brewing Blue Bottle Coffee here. It’s operating an exquisitely expensive–and commissioned–aircraft carrier.

Let’s use the verbiage from the Navy press release to remind us why the Ford Class got such an exquisite flight deck in the first place:

“The software-controlled AAG is a modular, integrated system that consists of energy absorbers, power conditioning equipment and digital controls, with architecture that provides built-in test and diagnostics, resulting in lower maintenance and manpower requirements. AAG is designed to provide higher reliability and safety margins, as well as to allow for the arrestment of a greater range of aircraft and reduce the fatigue impact load to the aircraft.

“The mission and function of EMALS remains the same as the traditional steam catapult; however, it employs entirely different technologies. It delivers necessary higher-launch energy capacity, improvements in system maintenance, increased reliability and efficiency, and more accurate end-speed control and smooth acceleration. EMALS is designed to expand the operational capability of the Navy’s future carriers to include all current and future planned carrier aircraft – from lightweight unmanned aircraft to heavy strike fighters.”

If we are just doing demonstration launches, then this aircraft carrier is not ready for prime time–the Navy needs to demonstrate the EMALS and AAG are driving towards their originally-stated goals every day, or the entire premise for the Ford Class goes away. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the NextNavy website.


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