Tag Archives: Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System

China’s 100,000 Ton CATOBAR Carrier hits the water

Delayed twice due to technical issues and COVID shutdowns (and a dash of corruption), the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China’s first Type 003 carrier was christened Fujian (CV 18) at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai on Friday.

Though China’s third aircraft carrier, she is the largest and the first in the world–other than the Ford-class supercarriers in the U.S.– to be equipped with electromagnetic (EMALS) catapult technology (give you three guesses where the tech packages came from for that), allowing her to operate larger and more capable aircraft. 

In short, she is the SMS Nassau to HMS Dreadnought. or HMS Warrior to the French ironclad Gloire in terms of naval history.

Fujian could be commissioned as early as 2024, although, with her new and untried EMALS system, it may be a decade or more before she is practically deemed combat-ready. For reference, Ford was delivered to the U.S. Navy on 31 May 2017 and is only slated to go for her first limited deployment– a “service-retained early employment”– later this fall.

Named after mainland China’s southeastern coastal province, Fujian has been under construction since 2015. Using an integrated electric propulsion (IEP) powerplant rather than a nuclear plant like the USN, she is estimated to have an overall length of 1,050 feet at the flight deck, putting her only about 50 feet shorter than Ford/Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

She is also thought to be as much as 30,000 tons heavier than China’s existing 1,000-foot Type 001/002 (modified Russian Kuznetsov-class) STOBAR ski-jump carriers Shandong (CV 17) and Liaoning (CV 16) that they have tinkering around with for the past 25 years.

Chinese carrier family. Note the difference between Fujian (CV18) at the bottom in terms of beam and flight deck size/angle, compared to the slimmer bow-on shots of the existing ski-jump Shandong (CV 17) and Liaoning (CV 16)

When completed in the next few years, Fujian will put the PLAN in the same elite club of CATOBAR operators as the Americans and French, with the latter using a modified U.S. Navy C-13 steam catapult system on their sole 45,000-ton carrier Charles de Gaulle (also the only other nuclear-powered carrier in service outside of the USN). However, another new member of the club is just over the horizon– the Indian Navy’s 65,000-ton Vikrant-class INS Vishal is slated to use a modified American-supplied EMALS system in a CATOBAR format when (if) she becomes operational in the 2030s.

Is Warship 78 Actually just over the Horizon?

The very troublesome new first-in-class supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) has a lot of gee-whiz improvements over the 10 tried-and-true Nimitz class flattops which have been the backbone of Naval Aviation since the 1990s when they surpassed the legacy “smokers” of the Midway, Forrestal, and Kitty Hawk class in numbers. This includes a new nuclear plant with the (crucial) ability to generate nearly three times the amount of electrical power, an innovative advanced arresting gear, and the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) that enables the Navy to leave the old (reliable) steam gear behind, and other improvements that lead to a huge ship that requires fewer Bluejackets to sail and fight.

One of the improvements was the promised Advanced Weapons Elevator (AWE) which the Navy billed as “using several advanced technologies including electromagnetic motors vice more labor-intensive, hydraulic systems,” that enables fewer sailors to safely move ordnance from weapons magazines to the flight deck with unparalleled speed and agility.”

The thing is, they didn’t work and the contractor has been scrambling for years to get them fixed. Finally, on Wednesday PEO Aircraft Carriers reported that the 11th and final AWE has been installed and turned over to Ford’s crew.


Sailors assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) weapons department, receive MK-82 500-pound class inert bombs on one of Ford’s Advanced Weapons Elevators, May 30, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach)

“This is a significant milestone for the Navy, ship, and her crew,” said RADM James P. Downey, Program Executive Officer for Aircraft Carriers. “With the completion of this final AWE, we now have the entire system to operate and train with.”

The work comes as Ford is at Newport News Shipyard in support of her Planned Incremental Availability (PIA), a six-month period of modernization, maintenance, and repairs, that began in September. When she emerges in March 2022, she will start workups for her inaugural deployment.

Keep in mind that she has already gone through 21 months of post-delivery tests and trials (PDT&T) and Full Ship Shock Trials (FSST), as she was delivered to the Navy by Newport News in May 2017 after eight years of construction.

Now to get EMALS working. Designed to achieve 4,166 aircraft launches between operational mission failures, a DoD report earlier this year said it went 181 launches between failures, or “well below the requirement.” 

It’s not like USS Nimitz was laid down in 1968 or anything…

This looks bad when you consider the Brits have, with a smaller shipbuilding industry and without having crafted a large-deck carrier since the 1950s, was able to construct their new 65,000-ton carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08)— laid down the same year as Ford— by 2017 and just completed an extensive halfway-around-the-world deployment with her, albeit with some of help from “The Colonies.”

Let’s hope this lengthy teething period will help streamline the (successful) delivery of Ford’s classmates, the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), Enterprise (CVN 80), and Doris Miller (CVN 81).

Likewise, Navy Air is not standing still, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation Demonstration (UCAD) of the MQ-25A unmanned air system prototype aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) has been going on this month, and shows promise, especially when it comes to halting the waste of using half the fleet’s Hornets to refuel the other half for strikes further than 400 miles out.

Comparing old- and new-school U.S. flattops

The $13 billion supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), the inaugural ship of her class, has been underway for the past week or so in the Atlantic with the bulk of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 along for the ride– her largest aircraft embark to date— trying to work out some persistent bugs (more on that in a minute) but in doing so has was part of an amazing 40+ photo ex with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), whose strike group is returning home from a crazy long 270+ day cruise with 5th and 6th Fleet.

(U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ruben Reed and Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Riley McDowell/Released)

The 4 June passing was the first time a Ford-class and a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier have operated together underway.

The ships are near dead-ringers in size and general layout. Truman, the eighth Nimitz-class ship (last of the Flight II/Theodore Roosevelt subclass), was commissioned 25 July 1998 while Ford has been extensively working up since 2017.

Note that Ford has nearly 30 aircraft on deck, mostly Rhinos.

Both carriers tip the scales at around 100,000 tons and are the same general overall length within about a Volkswagen’s Beetle worth of difference (1,092 ft. on Truman, 1,106 ft. on Ford).

Unseen below deck, Truman carries a pair of older Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, while Ford has newer Bechtel A1B nuclear reactors, with the latter reportedly cranking out about 25% more power while having a smaller footprint.

The islands are extremely different.

Truman carries AN/SPS-48E 3-D and AN/SPS-49(V)5 2-D air search radars along with a host of ATC and landing radars. Ford is equipped with AN/SPY-3 and AN/SPY-4 active electronically scanned array multi-function radar and her island is both 20 feet taller than that of the Nimitz class and is 140 feet further aft while being a yard closer to the edge of the ship (watch your step!)

Of note, the Navy was able to wave the banner of having seven carriers at sea at the same time for a couple weeks, anyway. Also a rarity.

Controversially, Ford has two other things that the proven steam-catapult equipped Nimitz class does not: the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which is supposed to boost the number of sorties she can generate per day by 25 %, and advanced weapons and aircraft elevators. The thing is, both systems are buggy as hell, with the Navy basically being the Beta Tester on them.

For example, on June 2, just prior to a scheduled flight deck operation cycle, the ship’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) went down. Loss of EMALS curtailed flight operations to some extent, but the Strike Group, ship, and air wing team still accomplished significant goals scheduled for the Ford-class aircraft carrier.

After several days of troubleshooting and assessing a fault in the launch system’s power handling elements, embarked EMALS experts and Ford’s crew restored the system to enable the safe fly-off of the air wing on Sunday morning, June 7.

Five days with no catapult is for sure no Bueno for a carrier, although she was able to eventually pull off, “day and night cyclic flight operations totaling 324 catapult launches and arrested landings, qualifying 50 pilots,” during the weeklong period.

The weapons generator seem to be working a bit better:

200530-N-NX070-1123 ATLANTIC OCEAN (May 30, 2020) Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to the weapons department aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) bring inert training bombs up to the flight deck during flight operations, May 30, 2020. Ford is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting integrated air wing operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist RJ Stratchko/Released)

The air wing’s embark provided the first opportunity for Ford’s weapons department to execute a full ordnance movement using a lower stage weapons elevator. Performing as advertised, Ford’s AWEs conducted more than 1,300 cycles during this latest at sea period that enabled the successful transfer of 176 inert bombs in support of air wing operations. Ford’s AWEs have conducted over 10,000 cycles to date.

On the bright side, Ford was able to verify that her tactical data links are working and she embarked a strike group commander recently.

As noted:

Commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 also embarked on Ford during this underway, marking the first time a Strike Group Commander and staff embarked on Ford for operations. CSG-12 was able to successfully conduct all intended command and control operations, control and distribute the link picture, and coordinate with Ford and Truman Strike Group assets as well as higher headquarters. Rear Adm. Craig Clapperton, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 assessed that the Strike Group and ship are ahead of schedule in this important command and control domain.

Most importantly, at least they got a Final Countdown photo for the cruise book…

200607-N-NX070-1076 ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 7, 2020) The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) steams through a storm in the Atlantic Ocean June 7, 2020, before disembarking Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, following successfully integrated air wing operations. Ford is underway conducting an independent steaming event. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist RJ Stratchko/Released)

Ford marks 1K trap, cat

Looks like the Ford is actually getting the kinks worked out of its new-fangled electromagnetic cats and upgraded arresting gear.

From the NAVY:

ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) — An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to “Blue Blasters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34, landed aboard USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck marking the 1,000th recovery of a fixed-wing aircraft using Ford’s Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) March 19, 2020, at 5:13 p.m.

Minutes later, the crew celebrated a second milestone launching an F/A18 E Super Hornet attached to “Warhawks” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 97 from Ford’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapults for the 1,000th time.

This significant milestone in the ships’ history began on July 28, 2017, with Ford’s first fixed-wing recovery and launch using its first-in-class AAG and EMALS technologies.

Capt. J.J. “Yank” Cummings, Ford’s commanding officer, explained how the entire Ford crew has worked together over the last few years to reach this achievement.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our crew, their motivation is amazing,” said Cummings. “We’ve been working extremely hard to get here today, and to see this 1,000th trap completely validates their efforts and the technology on this warship.”

Boasting the Navy’s first major design investment in aircraft carriers since the 1960s, Ford’s AAG and EMALs support greater launch and recovery energy requirements of future air wings, increasing the safety margin over legacy launch and arresting gear found on Nimitz-class carriers.

Lt. Scott Gallagher, assigned to VFA 34, has landed on five other carriers but became a part of Ford’s history with his, and the ship’s 1,000, recovery.

“There are a lot of people who are working night and day to make sure that this ship is ready to go be a warship out in the world,” said Gallagher. “To be a part of that, and this deck certification is super cool. Also getting the 1,000th trap helps the ship get one step closer to being the warship that it needs to be.”

Capt. Joshua Sager, commander, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, explained why his squadron’s integration with the ship’s personnel is important and how their relationship impacts operations.

“It’s great to share this moment in history with Ford. Integration between the air wing and ship’s company is crucial to the everyday success of carrier operations,” said Sager. “Completion of the 1,000th catapult and arrestment shows that the ship and her crew have tested and proven the newest technology the Navy has, and together we are ready to meet the operational requirements of our nation.”

With 1,000 launches and recoveries complete, Ford will continue its flight deck and combat air traffic control certifications in preparation to deliver to the fleet regular flight operations in support of East Coast carrier qualifications.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 19, 2020) Lt. Scott “Gameday” Gallagher lands an F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to “Blue Blasters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34, for the 1,000th trap on USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck during flight operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gary Prill)

Warship 78?

The new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) has been getting lots of knocks in the past few years and with good reason. Commissioned, 22 July 2017, now going on three years in service, and she has been far from being considered “fleet ready” with tons of post-delivery updates and modifications that have been pushed through as shakedown and availability proved many of the ship’s vital systems to include her cats, traps, and elevators, just plain didn’t work.

(A)SECNAV Thomas Modly on getting the ship on track and getting it right.

However, as a sign of improvements, Ford just completed Aircraft Compatibility Testing (ACT) Jan. 31, following 16 days at sea, during which the crew launched and recovered 211 aircraft, testing five different airframes, using first-generation, state-of-the-art flight deck systems.

As noted by the Navy: “This second and final round of testing validated the ship’s capability to launch and to recover aircraft with ordnance loadout and fuel states mirroring deployed requirements and operating tempos, using the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG)—two Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) systems unique to Ford.”

By completing T-45 testing, the Ford will be able to provide carrier qualification support to the Training Command and to student naval aviators in the jet/E-2/C-2 pipeline.

“There are so many firsts happening, and many of them we frankly don’t even really realize,” explained Ford’s Air Boss, Cmdr. Mehdi Akacem toward the end of the testing evolution. “We’ve had the first-ever T-45, EA-18 Growler, E-2D Hawkeye, and C-2A Greyhound, and there are pilots on board this ship right now who will forever be able to say that their contribution to the Navy was to be the first pilot or NFO [Naval Flight Officer] to come aboard the Gerald R. Ford-class in that type aircraft.”

Looks like Ford can catch, and receive

ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 28, 2017) An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 flies over USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). The aircraft carrier is underway conducting test and evaluation operations.(U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt/Released)

The Navy recently validated a software fix for the revolutionary Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System used on the latest batch of supercarriers. This resulted in the first cat and trap when an F/A-18F Super Hornet (BuNo #166969) assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Jamie “Coach” Struck, being launched and recovered on the flight deck of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) 28 July 2017. Ford is underway conducting test and evaluation operations.

Trap

Cat