A new GAO report (1) discusses, among other things, the progress of the Ford class Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) systems which have been beset by technical problems and cost overruns.
GAO has this to say about the EMALS and AAG costs.
“Since 2008, EMALS-related costs for the first-of-class Gerald R. Ford [CVN 78] have risen by 133.7%, from $317.7 – $742.6 million. AAG costs have also spiked, though its 124.8% jump is only from $75 – $168.6 million. This is so despite the Navy’s 2010 firm fixed-price contracts to produce these systems for CVN 78. Even with cost caps, however, late delivery and testing means that changes have to be made to a partially-complete ship. EMALS configuration changes have already forced electrical, wiring, and other changes within the ship; and instead of just being hoisted into place, the Advanced Arresting Gear will now have to be installed in pieces via a hole cut in the flight deck. AAG continues to undergo redesigns, most recently to its energy-absorbing “water twister,” and limited EMALS testing with the delayed F-35C risks forcing further changes after the ship has been built.”
As we’ve noted in previous posts about Navy contracts for other programs, the fixed price contract is anything but fixed. The term “fixed price” is just a public relations phrase intended to sound good to the public and Congress but it has no actual meaning.
The report goes on to note the following cost growths for EMALS and AAG.
The GAO report has this to say about the development of the AAG.
“Developmental test failures led to system redesigns. Navy is presently executing the first phase of land-based testing concurrent with system production and installation on CVN 78. The system is scheduled to arrest its first aircraft in June 2014.” [emphasis added]
Note the phrase, “concurrent with system production and installation”. Thus, we see that the same “build and buy before you test” approach is being used for the AAG acquisition as was done for the LCS. We’ve seen the spectacular failure that resulted from that approach for the LCS and, yet, the Navy continues to use this badly flawed practice.
As an aside, weight margins are becoming a problem even before the ship has been completed.
“To date, evolving information about the attributes of these technologies has produced a weight/stability configuration for CVN 78 that leaves little margin to incorporate additional weight growth high up in the ship without making corresponding weight trade-offs elsewhere or compromising the future growth potential of the ship.”
“According to shipbuilder representatives, additional weight growth to the advanced arresting gear was of particular concern and could trigger a need for future structural and space modifications around the installed system.”
We’ve already seen the impact of non-existent weight margins on the LCS. It would be most unfortunate if the same were to happen to the Ford. Again, this is due entirely to beginning construction prior to having a stable design from which weight calculations can be performed.
I have no doubt that the problems associated with EMALS and AAG will be solved but the cost in time, money, and growth margins will be steep. Most of this could have been avoided by simply having a complete design and mature subsystems prior to construction.
What’s the definition of insanity? - Repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome. The Navy has seen the LCS debacle that resulted from having no design and immature technology and yet is doing the exact same thing for the Ford class and expecting a different outcome. Granted, the Ford is not as immature as the LCS but the concept is the same, differing only in degree. The Navy seems adamantly unwilling to learn from experience.
(1) Defense Industry Daily, http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/emals-electro-magnetic-launch-for-carriers-05220/,
Sep 8, 2013