General Atomics announced on May 18 that it received a contract to support the next-generation aircraft launch and recovery systems on the new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers.
GA builds both systems.
The one year, $2.9 million U.S. Navy contract calls for ongoing engineering and logistics sustainment.
When designing an aircraft carrier to take the place of the current Nimitz class, the Pentagon decided to go with several new technologies. Instead of the conventional steam catapult, the Ford-class carrier uses a linear motor to send aircraft off the deck at launch speeds. The Navy calls the system EMALS, short for Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System.
A companion system slows a speeding aircraft as it lands. It is the Advanced Arresting Gear, or AAG.
By now, the Ford is launching and recovering aircraft with such systems. General Atomics said it is delivering equipment for the next two carriers in succession, the future USS John F. Kennedy and future USS Enterprise.
The Ford was commissioned in 2017 and is still getting ready for its first deployment, expected in 2024.
Program Shifts to New Phase
The contract signals the program is moving from the design and development phase and into concurrent production and sustainment, said Scott Forney, president of General Atomics’ Electromagnetic Systems business. Forney said the business would provide full life-cycle support for the systems.
As of mid-May, the Gerald R. Ford had made more than 2,300 successful aircraft launches and recoveries at sea, in daytime and nighttime operations, GA reported.
The goal is to operate at a pace required for combat readiness.
The Ford has accommodated several types of Navy aircraft, including the F/A-18 Super Hornet, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, C-2A Greyhound, EA-18G Growler, and T-45C Goshawk.
In February, the Navy cleared the EMALS and AAG systems for launch and recovery of all currently deployed naval aircraft types aboard the Gerald R. Ford. Specifically, the Navy issued Aircraft Launch Bulletins and Aircraft Recovery Bulletins which identify the weights and engaging speeds authorized for shipboard aircraft launch and recovery. GA said it was a signal that EMALS and AAG are safe for use aboard the ship.
As part of the development process, GA and the Navy also built an EMALS catapult at a naval air station on the East Coast.
A Focus on New Technology
The launch and recovery machinery on the Gerald Ford are just two of several new systems introduced with the new class of ships. Since they are new systems, there have been problems in getting them up and running. At one point, President Donald Trump famously said he would rather go back to the steam catapult.
Also new is a style of electromagnetic elevator that brings weapons from the ship’s magazine to waiting aircraft. The Navy and shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries are still working to bring all of the Ford’s elevators into working order.
According to the Navy, new technology on the ship supports a 30% higher sortie rate than current, Nimitz-class carriers, using 20% fewer crew members.
The advantage of linear electric motors in both the launch system and the weapons elevators is that they are more compact, controllable and efficient than steam or hydraulic technology, wrote naval analyst Norman Friedman in a recent issue of Proceedings, a journal published by the nonprofit U.S. Naval Institute. At the time the Ford class was designed, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for “revolutionary” technologies rather than old standbys, Friedman wrote.
General Atomics benefited from Rumsfeld seeking something new.
The Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River, Maryland, awarded the recent support contract.
General Atomics is privately held and does not disclose revenue.
A fourth Ford-class carrier, named after World War II hero Doris Miller, is planned.