. . . plus a few billion more to fix the problems.
The U.S. Navy has a major ship design disaster on its hands with the new EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) catapult that was installed in the latest aircraft carrier; the USS Ford (CVN 78). During sea trials the Ford used EMALS heavily, as would be the case in combat and training operations. Under intense use EMALS proved to be less reliable than the older steam catapult, more labor intensive to operate, put more stress on launched aircraft than expected and due to a basic design flaw if one EMALS catapult becomes inoperable, the other three catapults cannot be used in the meantime as was the case with steam catapults.
Some of the problems with EMALS were of the sort that could be fixed while the new ship was in service. That included tweaking EMALS operation to generate less stress on aircraft and modifying design of EMALS and reorganizing how sailors use the system to attain the smaller number of personnel required for catapult operations. But the fatal flaws involved reliability. An EMALS catapult was supposed to have a breakdown every 4,100 launches but in heavy use EMALS failed every 400 launches. The killer here was that when one EMALS catapult went down all four were inoperable. With steam catapults when one went down the other three could continue to operate.
Moreover it would cost over half a billion dollars to remove EMALS and install the older steam catapults. This would also take up to several years and lead to many other internal changes. The navy is now considering bringing a recently retired carrier back to active service as a stopgap because whatever the fix is it will not be quick or cheap.
This EMALS disaster was avoidable and the problems should have been detected and taken care of before the Ford was on sea trials.
. . .
The EMALS disaster calls into question the ability of the navy to handle new, untried, technologies. That is not a new problem and has been around since World War II. In retrospect not enough was done to test and address what are now obvious problems. The current solution is to delay the moment of truth as long as possible and then conclude that it was unclear exactly how it happened but that measures would be taken to see that it never happen again. That approach is wearing thin because more people are well aware that is just a cover for the corruption and mismanagement that has been developing within the industries that build warships.
There’s more at the link. What’s more, EMALS isn’t the only problem with the ship. You’ll find a list of some of the more important defects here. Together, they’ll probably cost billions to fix – billions of our taxpayer money.
I don’t know what the heck is wrong with the US Navy’s procurement process, but it’s clearly in a mess. The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has been derisively renamed ‘Little Crappy Ships‘, in tribute to the endless problems that continue to plague it; the San Antonio class amphibious transport dock ships took years to get right, particularly the lead ship; and maintenance has been shelved or postponed for far too long due to budgetary pressures, resulting in a multi-year backlog. These and other problems led to a recent headline claiming bluntly that ‘The US Navy is screwed‘. The problems with USS Ford are merely another symptom of that reality.
Speaking as a taxpayer, I want to know why multiple heads responsible for these fiascos have not rolled. If President Trump wants to ‘drain the swamp’, the Pentagon – and Navy procurement bureaucrats in particular – might be good places to begin.