France cleared to buy EMALS and AAG for its next aircraft carrier

“USS Ford EMALS failed after 181 launches. It was required to work for 4,166 launches before failure,” Pentagon tester says

By Dario Leone
Jan 12 2021
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The AAG was working for an average of 48 traps before failing.

According to Alert 5, the Pentagon’s Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) latest assessment of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) installed on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) remains pessimistic.

In fact more than three years after USS Gerald R. Ford was delivered, aircraft takeoff and landing systems on the $13.2 billion carrier remain unreliable and break down too often, according to director of testing Robert Behler.

“Poor or unknown reliability of new technology systems critical for flight operations,” including its $3.5 billion electromagnetic launch system and advanced arresting gear, could “adversely affect” the carrier’s ability to generate sorties, he said in his new summary of the program obtained by Bloomberg News before its release in an annual report.

The Ford’s EMALS and AAG systems are crucial to justifying the expense of what’s now a four-vessel, $57 billion program intended to replace the current Nimitz class of aircraft carriers.

However the new flattop remains several years from being declared combat-ready for extended deployments, a milestone originally set for 2018.

Nevertheless, the Ford class is also the backbone of the Navy’s aspirations to expand its fleet from 297 vessels today to 355 and then almost 500 by 2045.

Behler’s assessment covered 3,975 launches and landing operations on the Ford during 11 at-sea, post-delivery trials from November 2019 through September 2020. In his report, Behler said the EMALS was failing after 181 launches. It was required to work for 4,166 launches before failure. EMALS also broke down for three days on two occasions in 2020. Instead the AAG was working for an average of 48 traps before failing.

But Navy officials were upbeat during a media visit to the carrier in November. “These are enormous undertakings,” Rear Admiral James Downey, the Navy’s program executive officer for aircraft carriers, told reporters, according to USNI News. “There’s been some problems. There’s been some cost issues. Most of that’s history.”

For more than 40 years, Nimitz-class carriers have played the first-responder role in crises and conflicts. The delivery of CVN 77 in 2009 provided continued proof of the viability of the early-’60s design of the Nimitz-class carriers; these ships have served the nation well, and will continue to do so in the coming decades. Ford-class ships will begin to succeed those of the Nimitz class.

According to All Hands, while the aircraft carrier’s basic mission will remain unchanged, Ford-class ships will deliver greater lethality, survivability, and joint interoperability, along with unmatched versatility and compatibility with continuing joint-force transformation – all at a reduced operating and maintenance cost to taxpayers. Ford will be capable of carrying the Navy’s most advanced aircraft, such as the F-35C Lightning II; F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; E-2D Advanced Hawkeye; EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft; MH-60R/S helicopters and unmanned air vehicles. Adding to its versatility, Ford will also be able to recover and launch various Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft flown by the United States Marine Corps. Finally, the design margins built into the ship will allow for integration of future manned and unmanned aircraft with minimal ship alterations.

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Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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