Friday, May 19, 2017

The Problems with the USS Gerald R. Ford (Hint — It’s Not the Catapults)

In an interview with Time, the notional Commander in Chief again showed his willful ignorance by calling for steam catapults rather than "digital catapults" on the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carriers.  Aside from the limitations inherent in using the decades old steam technology, the new Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapult on the carrier USS Ford are not "digital." It is not clear what a digital catapult might be. What is clear is that the president has absolutely no idea what he is talking about, yet again.

The Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is computer controlled, as is just about everything these days, but is hardly "digital." EMALS use a series of electric motors instead of a conventional steam piston drive. The system allows more controlled acceleration which puts less stress on the planes and can be tailored to plane size, from drones to the heaviest carrier-based fighter bombers. The system is lighter and also should be far less costly to maintain. It also allows for more planes to be launched faster than the old steam catapults. The system had initial bugs but is now said to be ready for sea trials.

Right now the EMALS seems to be one of the least problematic systems on the $13 billion supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford.  The largest problem seems to be with its turbine generator sets which have failed to produce enough power. The Navy has said that they have come up with a series of fixes. There are also reported problems with the ship's plane arresting gear. 

Many say that the problems are more administrative than technical. Senator John McCain argues that the cost overruns, delays and technical failures of the Ford-class carrier program are evidence of the overall flawed defense acquisition system.

Likewise, Ex-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told reporters, "The Ford is a textbook example of how not to build a ship," "(We were) building it while it's still being designed" — which results in costly do-overs of already-finished components — "(and) trying to force too much new and unproven technology on it." 

Perhaps what we really need is better Navy contracting, not steam catapults or an ignorant Commander in Chief.

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