Leap into the future

Leap into the future
Leap into the future
Leap into the future

After the publication in September 2013 of the US Accounts Chamber's report on the state of the program for the construction of the lead aircraft carrier of the new generation Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), a number of articles appeared in the foreign and domestic press, in which the construction of the aircraft carrier was viewed in an extremely negative light. Some of these articles exaggerated the significance of the real problems with the construction of the ship and presented information in a rather one-sided way. Let's try to figure out the actual state of the program for the construction of the newest aircraft carrier of the American fleet and what are its prospects.


The contract for the construction of Gerald R. Ford was awarded on September 10, 2008. The ship was laid down on November 13, 2009 at the Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) shipyard of Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), the only American shipyard that builds nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The aircraft carrier's christening ceremony took place on November 9, 2013.

When the contract was signed in 2008, the construction cost of Gerald R. Ford was estimated at $ 10.5 billion, but then it grew by about 22% and today is $ 12.8 billion, including $ 3.3 billion one-time the cost of designing the entire series of new generation aircraft carriers. This amount does not include R&D expenditures on the creation of a new generation aircraft carrier, which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, spent $ 4.7 billion.

In the 2001-2007 fiscal years, $ 3.7 billion was allocated to create the backlog, in the 2008-2011 fiscal years, $ 7.8 billion was allocated within the framework of phased financing, in the 2014-2015 fiscal years due to the increase in the value of the ship, to be additionally allocated $ 1.3 billion.

During the construction of the Gerald R. Ford, there were also certain delays - it was originally planned to transfer the ship to the fleet in September 2015. One of the reasons for the delays was the inability of subcontractors to deliver in full and on time the shut-off valves of the chilled water supply system specially designed for the aircraft carrier. Another reason was the use of thinner steel sheets in the manufacture of ship decks to reduce weight and increase the metacentric height of the aircraft carrier, which is necessary to increase the modernization potential of the ship and install additional equipment in the future. This resulted in frequent deformation of the steel sheets in the finished sections, which entailed lengthy and costly deformation elimination work.

To date, the transfer of the aircraft carrier to the fleet is scheduled for February 2016. After that, state tests of the integration of the main systems of the ship will be carried out for about 10 months, followed by final state tests, the duration of which will be about 32 months. From August 2016 to February 2017, additional systems will be installed on the aircraft carrier and changes will be made to those already installed. The ship should reach initial combat readiness in July 2017, and full combat readiness in February 2019. Such a long period between the transfer of the ship to the fleet and the achievement of combat readiness, according to the head of the US Navy's aircraft carrier programs, Rear Admiral Thomas Moore, is natural for the lead ship of a new generation, especially as complex as a nuclear aircraft carrier.

The rising cost of building an aircraft carrier has become one of the key reasons for the sharp criticism of the program from Congress, its various services and the press.R&D and ship construction costs, now estimated at $ 17.5 billion, seem astronomical. At the same time, I would like to note a number of factors that should be taken into account.

First, the construction of new-generation ships, both in the United States and in other countries, is almost always associated with a sharp increase in the cost and timing of the program. Examples of this are programs such as the construction of the San-Antonio-class amphibious assault dock ships, the LCS-class coastal warships and the Zumwalt-class destroyers in the United States, the Daring-class destroyers and Astute-class nuclear submarines in the United Kingdom, Project 22350 frigates and non-nuclear submarines of project 677 in Russia.

Secondly, thanks to the introduction of new technologies, which will be discussed below, the Navy expects to reduce the cost of the full life cycle (LCC) of the ship in comparison with aircraft carriers of the Nimitz type by about 16% - from $ 32 billion to $ 27 billion (in 2004 financial prices). of the year). With a ship's service life of 50 years, the costs of the new generation aircraft carrier program, stretched over about a decade and a half, no longer look so astronomical.

Third, almost half of the $ 17.5 billion falls on R&D and one-time design costs, which means a significantly lower (in constant prices) cost of serial aircraft carriers. Some of the technologies being implemented at the Gerald R. Ford, in particular, the new generation of air arrestors, may be implemented in the future on some aircraft carriers of the Nimitz type during their modernization. It is assumed that the construction of serial aircraft carriers will also manage to avoid many of the problems that arose during the construction of Gerald R. Ford, including disruptions in the work of subcontractors and the NNS shipyard itself, which will also have a beneficial effect on the timing and cost of construction. Finally, stretched over a decade and a half, $ 17.5 billion is less than 3% of total US military spending in the 2014 fiscal year budget.


For about 40 years, US nuclear aircraft carriers were built according to one project (USS Nimitz was laid down in 1968, its last sister ship USS George H.W. Bush was transferred to the Navy in 2009). Of course, changes were made to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier project, but the project did not undergo any fundamental changes, which raised the question of creating a new generation aircraft carrier and introducing a significant number of new technologies necessary for the effective operation of the aircraft carrier component of the US Navy in the 21st century.

The external differences between Gerald R. Ford and their predecessors at first glance do not seem significant. Smaller in area, but higher "island" is shifted more than 40 meters closer to the stern and a little closer to the starboard side. The ship is equipped with three aircraft lifts instead of four on the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. Flight deck area increased by 4, 4%. The flight deck layout involves optimizing the movement of ammunition, aircraft and cargo, as well as simplifying inter-flight aircraft maintenance, which will be carried out directly on the flight deck.

The Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier project includes 13 critical new technologies. Initially, it was planned to gradually introduce new technologies during the construction of the last aircraft carrier of the Nimitz type and the first two aircraft carriers of the new generation, but in 2002 it was decided to introduce all the key technologies in the construction of Gerald R. Ford. This decision was one of the reasons for the complication and significant rise in the cost of building the ship. The reluctance to reschedule the Gerald R. Ford construction program led NNS to start building the ship without a final design.

The technologies being implemented at Gerald R. Ford must achieve two key goals: increasing the efficiency of the use of carrier-based aircraft and, as mentioned above, reducing the cost of life cycle. It is planned to increase the number of sorties per day by 25% compared to aircraft carriers of the Nimitz type (from 120 to 160 with a 12-hour flight day). For a short time with Gerald R.Ford is slated to handle up to 270 sorties on a 24-hour day. For comparison, in 1997, during the JTFEX 97-2 exercise, the aircraft carrier Nimitz managed to carry out 771 strike sorties in the most favorable conditions within four days (about 193 sorties per day).

New technologies should reduce the size of the ship's crew from about 3,300 to 2,500 people, and the size of the air wing - from about 2,300 to 1,800 people. The importance of this factor is difficult to overestimate, given that the costs associated with the crew are about 40% of the cost of life cycle of aircraft carriers of the Nimitz type. The duration of the aircraft carrier's operational cycle, including scheduled medium or current repairs and turnaround times, is planned to be increased from 32 to 43 months. Dock repairs are planned to be carried out every 12 years, and not 8 years, as on aircraft carriers of the Nimitz type.

Much of the criticism that the Gerald R. Ford program was subjected to in the September report of the Accounts Chamber related to the level of technical readiness (UTG) of the ship's critical technologies, namely, their achievement of UTG 6 (readiness for testing under required conditions) and UTG 7 (readiness to serial production and regular operation), and then UTG 8-9 (confirmation of the possibility of regular operation of serial samples in necessary and real conditions, respectively). The development of a number of critical technologies experienced significant delays. Not wanting to postpone the construction and transfer of the ship to the fleet, the Navy decided to start mass production and installation of critical systems in parallel with ongoing tests and until UTG 7 is reached. in the operation of key systems of the ship, this can lead to long and costly changes, as well as a decrease in the combat potential of the ship.

The Director of Operations Evaluation and Testing (DOT & E) 2013 Annual Report was recently released, which also criticizes the Gerald R. Ford program. The criticism of the program is based on the October 2013 evaluation.

The report points to "low or unrecognized" reliability and availability of a number of Gerald R. Ford's critical technologies, including catapults, aerofinishers, multifunctional radar and aircraft munition lifts, which could negatively impact the rate of sorties and require additional redesign. According to DOT & E, the declared rate of the intensity of aircraft sorties (160 per day under normal conditions and 270 for a short time) is based on overly optimistic conditions (unlimited visibility, good weather, no malfunctions in the operation of ship systems, etc.) and is unlikely to be achieved. Nevertheless, it will be possible to assess this only during the operational assessment and testing of the ship before it reaches its initial combat readiness.

The DOT & E report notes that the current timing of the Gerald R. Ford program does not suggest enough time for development testing and troubleshooting. The riskiness of carrying out a number of development tests after the start of the operational assessment and testing is emphasized.

The DOT & E report also notes the inability of Gerald R. Ford to support data transmission over multiple CDL channels, which may limit the aircraft carrier's ability to interact with other forces and assets, a high risk that the ship's self-defense systems will not meet existing requirements, and insufficient time for crew training. … All of this could, according to DOT & E, jeopardize the successful conduct of operational assessment and testing and the achievement of initial combat readiness.

Rear Admiral Thomas Moore and other representatives of the Navy and NNS spoke out in defense of the program and expressed their confidence that all existing problems will be resolved within the two years remaining before the aircraft carrier is handed over to the fleet.Naval officials also challenged a number of other findings of the report, including the "overly optimistic" reported sortie rate. It is worth noting that the presence of critical remarks in the DOT & E report is natural, given the specifics of the work of this department (as well as the Accounts Chamber), as well as the inevitable difficulties in the implementation of such a complex program as the construction of the lead aircraft carrier of a new generation. Little of the US military program is criticized in DOT & E reports.


Two of the 13 key stations being deployed at Gerald R. Ford are on the combined DBR radar, which includes the AN / SPY-3 MFR X-band multipurpose active phased array (AFAR) radar manufactured by Raytheon Corporation and the AN S-band AFAR air target detection radar. / SPY-4 VSR manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corporation. The DBR radar program began back in 1999, when the Navy signed a contract with Raytheon for R&D to develop the MFR radar. It is planned to install the DBR radar on Gerald R. Ford in 2015.

To date, the MFR radar is located at UTG 7. The radar completed ground tests in 2005 and tests on the SDTS remotely controlled prototype ship in 2006. In 2010, ground integration tests of the MFR and VSR prototypes were completed. MFR trials at Gerald R. Ford are scheduled for 2014. Also, this radar will be installed on Zumwalt-class destroyers.

The situation with the VSR radar is somewhat worse: today this radar is located on UTG 6. It was originally planned to install the VSR radar as part of the DBR radar on Zumwalt-class destroyers. Installed in 2006 at the Wallops Island test center, the ground prototype was to reach production readiness in 2009, and the radar on the destroyer was to complete major tests in 2014. But the cost of developing and creating the VSR increased from $ 202 million to $ 484 million (+ 140%), and in 2010 the installation of this radar on Zumwalt-class destroyers was abandoned for reasons of cost savings. This led to almost a five-year delay in testing and refinement of the radar. The completion of the tests of the ground prototype is scheduled for 2014, the tests at the Gerald R. Ford - in 2016, the achievement of UTG 7 - in 2017.


Armament specialists are hanging the AIM-120 missile system on the F / A-18E Super Hornet fighter.


Equally important technologies on the Gerald R. Ford are EMALS electromagnetic catapults and modern AAG aerial rope finishers. These two technologies play a key role in increasing the number of sorties per day, as well as contributing to a decrease in crew size. Unlike existing systems, the power of EMALS and AAG can be precisely adjusted depending on the mass of the aircraft (AC), which makes it possible to launch both light UAVs and heavy aircraft. Thanks to this, AAG and EMALS significantly reduce the load on the airframe of the aircraft, which contributes to an increase in the service life and a decrease in the cost of operating the aircraft. Compared to steam catapults, electromagnetic catapults are much lighter, take up less volume, have a high efficiency, contribute to a significant reduction in corrosion, and require less labor during maintenance.

EMALS and AAG are being installed in Gerald R. Ford in parallel with ongoing testing at McGwire-Dix-Lakehurst Joint Base in New Jersey. Aerofinishers AAG and EMALS catapults are currently on UTG 6. EMALS and AAGUTG 7 are planned to be achieved after ground tests in 2014 and 2015 respectively, although it was originally planned to reach this level in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The cost of developing and creating AAG increased from $ 75 million to 168 million (+ 125%), and EMALS - from $ 318 million to 743 million (+ 134%).

In June 2014, the AAG is to be tested with the aircraft landing on the Gerald R. Ford. By 2015, it is planned to carry out about 600 aircraft landings.

The first aircraft from the simplified ground prototype EMALS was launched on December 18, 2010. It was the F / A-18E Super Hornet from the 23rd Test and Appraisal Squadron.The first phase of testing the ground-based prototype EMALS ended in the fall of 2011 and included 133 takeoffs. In addition to the F / A-18E, the T-45C Goshawk trainer, the C-2A Greyhound transport and the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft (AWACS) took off with EMALS. On November 18, 2011, a promising fifth-generation carrier-based fighter-bomber F-35C LightingII took off from EMALS for the first time. On June 25, 2013, the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft took off from EMALS for the first time, marking the beginning of the second phase of testing, which should include about 300 take-offs.

The desired average for EMALS is around 1250 aircraft launches between critical failures. Now this figure is about 240 launches. The situation with the AAG, according to DOT & E, is even worse: with the desired average of about 5,000 aircraft landings between critical failures, the current figure is only 20 landings. The question remains open as to whether the Navy and industry will be able to address the reliability issues of the AAG and EMALS within the given time frame. The position of the Navy and industry themselves, in contrast to the GAO and DOT & E, on this issue is very optimistic.

For example, steam catapults model C-13 (series 0, 1 and 2), despite their inherent disadvantages compared to electromagnetic catapults, demonstrated a high degree of reliability. So, in the 1990s, 800 thousand aircraft launches from the decks of American aircraft carriers had only 30 serious malfunctions, and only one of them led to the loss of the aircraft. In February – June 2011, the aircraft carrier Enterprise's air wing completed about 3,000 combat missions as part of the operation in Afghanistan. The share of successful launches with steam catapults was about 99%, and out of 112 days of flight operations only 18 days (16%) were spent on the maintenance of the catapults.


The heart of Gerald R. Ford is a nuclear power plant (NPP) with two A1B reactors manufactured by Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corporation (UTG 8). Electricity generation will increase by 3.5 times compared to the Nimitz type nuclear power plants (with two A4W reactors), which allows replacing hydraulic systems with electric ones and installing systems such as EMALS, AAG, and promising high energy directional weapon systems. The electric power system of Gerald R. Ford differs from its counterparts on ships of the Nimitz type in compactness, lower labor costs in operation, which leads to a decrease in the number of crew and the cost of the life cycle of the ship. The initial operational readiness of the Gerald R. nuclear power plant is to be reached by Ford in December 2014. There were no complaints about the operation of the ship's nuclear power plant. UTG 7 was achieved back in 2004.

Other critical technologies of Gerald R. Ford include elevators for the transport of aviation ammunition AWE - UTG 6 (UTG 7 is to be achieved in 2014; the ship is planned to install 11 elevators instead of 9 on aircraft carriers of the Nimitz type; the use of linear electric motors instead of cables has increased the load from 5 to 11 tons and increase the survivability of the ship due to the installation of horizontal gates in the weapon vaults), compatible with the MFR radar control protocol for the ESSMJUWL air defense missile system - UTG 6 (UTG 7 is planned to be achieved in 2014), an all-weather landing system using the GPS JPALS satellite global positioning system - UTG 6 (UTG 7 should be achieved in the near future), a plasma-arc furnace for processing waste PAWDS and a cargo receiving station on the move HURRS - UTG 7, a reverse osmosis desalination plant (+ 25% capacity compared to existing systems) and used in high-strength low-alloy steel HSLA 115 - UTG 8, high-strength low-alloy steel used in bulkheads and decks HSLA 65 - UTG 9.


The success of the Gerald R. Ford program largely depends on the success of the modernization programs for the composition of carrier-based aircraft wings. In the short term (until the mid-2030s), at first glance, changes in this area will be reduced to the replacement of the "classic" Hornet F / A-18C / D with the F-35C and the appearance of a heavy deck UAV, currently being developed under the UCLASS program … These two priority programs will give the US Navy what it lacks today: increased combat radius and stealth. The F-35C fighter-bomber, which is planned to be purchased by both the Navy and the Marine Corps, will perform primarily the tasks of a "first day of war" stealth strike aircraft.The UCLASS UAV, which is likely to be built with a wider, albeit smaller than the F-35C, use of stealth technology, will become a strike-reconnaissance platform capable of being in the air for an extremely long time in the area of ​​hostilities.

Achievement of initial combat readiness for the F-35C in the US Navy is planned according to current plans in August 2018, that is, later than in other branches of the military. This is due to the more serious requirements of the Navy - combat-ready F-35Cs in the Navy are recognized only after the readiness of the Block 3F version, which provides support for a wider range of weapons compared to earlier versions, which at first will suit the Air Force and the ILC. The capabilities of avionics will also be more fully disclosed, in particular, the radar will be able to fully operate in the synthetic aperture mode, which is necessary, for example, to search for and defeat small-sized ground targets in adverse weather conditions. The F-35C should become not only an attack aircraft of the "first day", but also the "eyes and ears of the fleet" - in the context of the widespread use of such anti-access / area denial (A2 / AD) means as modern air defense systems, only it will be able to delve into enemy-controlled airspace.

The result of the UCLASS program should be the creation by the end of the decade of a heavy UAV capable of long-term flights, primarily for reconnaissance purposes. In addition, they want to entrust him with the task of striking ground targets, a tanker and, possibly, even a medium-range air-to-air missile carrier capable of hitting air targets with external target designation.

UCLASS is also an experiment for the Navy, only after gaining experience in operating such a complex, they will be able to correctly work out the requirements for replacing their main fighter, the F / A-18E / F Super Hornet. The sixth generation fighter will be at least optionally manned, and possibly completely unmanned.

Also in the near future, the E-2C Hawkeye carrier-based aircraft will be replaced with a new modification - E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. The E-2D will feature more efficient engines, a new radar and significantly greater capabilities to act as an air command post and a network-centric battlefield node through new operator workstations and support for modern and future data transmission channels.

The Navy plans to link the F-35C, UCLASS and other naval forces into a single information network with the possibility of operational multilateral data transfer. The concept was named Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA). The main efforts for its successful implementation are focused not on the development of new aircraft or types of weapons, but on new highly secure over-the-horizon data transmission channels with high performance. In the future, it is likely that the Air Force will also be included in the NIFC-CA within the framework of the Air-Sea Operation concept. On the way to NIFC-CA, the Navy will face a wide range of daunting technological challenges.

It is obvious that the construction of new generation ships requires significant time and resources, and the development and implementation of new critical technologies is always associated with significant risks. The experience of the Americans in the implementation of the program for the construction of the lead aircraft carrier of a new generation should serve as a source of experience for the Russian fleet as well. The risks faced by the US Navy during the construction of the Gerald R. Ford should be explored as fully as possible, wishing to concentrate the maximum number of new technologies on one ship. It seems more reasonable to gradually introduce new technologies during construction, to achieve a high UTG before installing systems directly on the ship. But here, too, it is necessary to take into account the risks, namely, the need to minimize the changes made to the project during the construction of ships and ensure sufficient modernization potential for the introduction of new technologies.

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