Tag Archives: (EMALS)

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.

Ford completes flight deck certification (1711 days after commissioning)

“War Party Rocks!!!” A Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) F-18E Rhino of Strike Fighter Squadron 87 (VFA-87), the Golden Warriors, traps aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) during her recent FDC and CATCC. Formed in 1968 to fly A-7s, the Warriors were in combat over Vietnam from the decks of USS Ticonderoga just nine months after they were established. They recently made headlines downing a Syrian Su-22 in 2017, the Superhornet’s first ATA victory.

Class-leading supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), once she gets all the bugs worked out, will be the most capable flattop that has ever flat-topped. Commissioned on 22 July 2017 after a nearly eight-year build process, the warship that was ordered in 2008 is gearing up for her first real-world deployment later this year and there are signs things are going right.

Chief among these? With famed and historic CVW-8 aboard– which formed in 1943 and sailed for combat aboard USS Intrepid back in WWIIFord completed her Flight Deck Certification (FDC) and Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC) certification on March 29.

Via CVN78’s PAO:

Once out to sea, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, E-2D Hawkeyes, and MH-60S Nighthawks assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 conducted operations to prove the ship’s and crew’s capabilities. To achieve certification, Ford conducted more than 400 day and night catapult launches and trap recoveries. Prior to getting underway, Ford’s air department was evaluated on its ability to respond to flight deck emergencies and firefighting.

“Ford and Carrier Air Wing 8 were meticulous during the whole certification evolution,” said Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain Mate (Equipment) Carl Higdon, the air department’s leading chief petty officer. “Every Sailor aboard contributed to our success of the mission. I’m really proud to be a part of this team.”

Following flight deck certification, flight operations continued to keep pilots’ carrier qualifications and proficiency current, demonstrating Ford’s contribution to air wing and fleet readiness through capabilities provided by the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG).

“Flight deck certification is a significant milestone in preparation for our first deployment,” said Capt. Paul Lanzilotta, Ford’s Commanding Officer. “We have more tests and evaluations to complete during our next underway periods, and I have no doubt that our Sailors will rise to the challenge and accomplish the mission.”

Ford will head underway again this month for additional milestone events that will prepare the ship for a scheduled deployment later this year.

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)

Dorie Miller to be remembered in a new carrier

The (A)SECNAV over the weekend announced that, in honor of MLK Day, USS West Virginia Pearl Harbor hero cook PO3 Dorie Miller will be the namesake of a new Gerald Ford-class carrier, the future CVN-81.

Of course, it does kinda rub me a skosh the wrong way as far as naming conventions go, with aircraft carriers generally named after famous battles, other aircraft carriers, and presidents. Traditionally, destroyers and frigates were named in honor of naval heroes up to and including Medal of Honor winners. In fact, Miller formerly had a Cold War-era Knox-class frigate named after him (DE/FF-1091)

USS Miller (DE/FF-1091) underway off Cape Henry, Va., on 20 May 1974. (U.S. Navy photograph K-103414, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.) NHHC K-103414

Still, in my mind, it is far better to name a carrier for Miller than for Carl Vinson and John Stennis, as have been done in the past, just saying.

Sure, you can argue that Vinson and Stennis both held and pulled important purse strings while in Capitol Hill for the military– but they never had to face down an incoming Japanese Val with a machine gun they were never trained to use.

As noted by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly’s office:

This will be the second ship named in honor of Miller, and the first aircraft carrier ever named for an African American. This will also be the first aircraft carrier to be named in honor of a Sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.

“In selecting this name, we honor the contributions of all our enlisted ranks, past and present, men and women, of every race, religion and background,” said Modly. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, ‘Everybody can be great – because anybody can serve’. No one understands the importance and true meaning of service than those who have volunteered to put the needs of others above themselves.”

On Dec. 7, 1941, Miller was collecting laundry on the battleship West Virginia (BB-48), when the attack from Japanese forces commenced. When the alarm for general quarters sounded he headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it. Miller was ordered to the ship’s bridge to aid the mortally wounded commanding officer, and subsequently manned a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition. Miller then helped move many other injured Sailors as the ship was ordered abandoned due to her own fires and flaming oil floating down from the destroyed Arizona (BB-33). West Virginia lost 150 of its 1,500 person crew.

Miller’s actions during the attack earned him a commendation from then Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and the Navy Cross, which was presented to him personally by Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time.

Nimitz stated: this marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I’m sure the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.

“Doris Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation, and his story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue the watch today,” said Modly.

In 1943, Miller died aboard USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56) when the ship was hit by a torpedo and sank off Butaritari Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.

The future USS Doris Miller and other Ford-class carriers will be the premier forward asset for crisis response and humanitarian relief, and early decisive striking power in major combat operations. The aircraft carrier and the carrier strike group will provide forward presence, rapid response, endurance on station, and multi-mission capability throughout its 50-year service life.

Meanwhile, USS Gerald R. Ford is apparently making good progress when it comes to launches and traps on Hornets, Greyhounds and T-45 Goshawks, working through teething problems on its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), which is good news as far as the class itself goes.

Hopefully, they will get the bugs worked out before the next “big one,” a factor that could help deter just such an event.