Troubled advanced arresting gear system on carrier Ford passes key test
By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: October 19, 2016
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — A critical system on the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford that has symbolized the ship's struggles has taken "a big step forward," the Navy has reported.
The advanced arresting gear (AAG), designed to safely land aircraft on the flight deck, recently recovered a "fly-in" of an F/A-18E Super Hornet at a land-based site in New Jersey.
Prior to that, the Navy had trapped more than 200 aircraft in a "roll-in" type of land-based test.
"This milestone test event demonstrates AAG's capability and signifies a big step forward in getting the system ready for duty on board the Navy's newest aircraft carrier," said Capt. Stephen Tedford, program manager for aircraft launch and recovery equipment.
Built by General Atomics, the advanced arresting gear combines energy-absorbing water turbines and an induction motor to bring aircraft to a controlled stop. It is currently installed on the Ford, which continues to undergo testing at Newport News Shipbuilding.
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus held a press conference with local media after taking a tour of the Gerald R. Ford carrier at Newport News Shipbuilding on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016.
Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) completed more than 1,300 "traps" using dead loads before switching to manned aircraft. The tests are being conducted at sites in Lakehurst, N.J.
The AAG system recognizes roll-in and fly-in landings as essentially the same, but the different approaches allow the Navy to test variable conditions the system will face, according to NAVAIR.
The Oct. 13 fly-in was deemed successful because it allowed the test team to gather data at 12 different points, said NAVAIR spokesman Michael Land.
Additional fly-in tests will not be needed, he said. However, the Navy will continue to conduct roll-in tests with aircraft as well as dead-load tests.
Eventually, NAVAIR will issue what's called an aircraft recovery bulletin for the Super Hornet. It instructs the crew on how to use the advanced arresting gear for a specific type of aircraft.
NAVAIR plans to issue a limited aircraft recovery bulletin so the Ford can test AAG with manned aircraft on its flight deck. That timetable hasn't been announced.
Besides AAG, several key systems on Ford have proved troublesome. The ship is well behind its intended delivery of September 2015, and the Navy hasn't specified when the $12.9 billion warship will join the fleet.
Top Navy officials have attributed the delays to a decision made more than a decade ago to pack several new, untested technologies on the Ford, the first of a new carrier class, instead of gradually introducing new components over several ships.
Frank Kendall, a Defense Department undersecretary and lead weapons buyer, recently kicked off a review of the Ford carrier program, and AAG is among his top concerns.
The Navy has acknowledged those problems and is reviewing whether to install AAG on the next Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy.
The drumbeat of negative reports on AAG dates back more than a year.
In November 2014, the Government Accountability Office noted failures in land-based testing that led to further work and redesign.
In March 2015, a Naval Sea Systems Command officer said AAG was about two years behind schedule. In October of that year, a Pentagon official told Congress that AAG testing had not yet accumulated meaningful data, yet it was already installed on the Ford.
In July 2016, the Defense Department inspector general said the program had recorded a 332 percent cost increase through research, development, testing and evaluation. It represented an overrun of $571.5 million from 2005 baseline numbers.
In August, Kendall announced his intent to review the overall program.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who visited the Newport News shipyard last week, gave an upbeat assessment of the challenges that face Ford, although he declined to predict when it would be delivered to the Navy.