The new Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) has yet to be tested with a live aircraft and has had a troubled development past.  A recent DoD Inspector General report questioned whether the system should continue and noted reliability of the system is uncertain.

Advanced Arresting Gear, the brand new system for catching aircraft on Ford Class carriers, has raised serious concern from the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  Now a recent DoD inspector general report questions whether or not the Navy should continue the program.

The DoD IG noted:  “Ten years after the program entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase, the Navy has not been able to prove the capability or safety of the system to a level that would permit actual testing of the system on an aircraft carrier because of hardware failures and software challenges.”

The USS Ford is nearing completion and expected to be delivered to the US Navy in late 2016 for sea trials.

“The Navy concurs that the system is not yet ready to test on an aircraft carrier and that the technology was not sufficiently mature for the planned use on CVN 78,” the Navy said in a response.

So what has been the problem?

Redesigns were needed for major components such as the water twister, cable shock absorber, and power conditioning system.  The water twister is a paddle wheel submerged in fluid that absorbs the force when the tail hook of a plane pulls against the arresting cable to come to a stop.  The cable shock absorber dissipates initial force during an aircraft arrestment. The power conditioning system controls and distributes the power to the overall system. Software challenges have accompanied many of these hardware issues.

The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) floats in the James River after being launched from dry dock at Newport News Shipbuilding, 11/17/2013. The ship will tied to an outfitting pier at the shipyard for equipment installation and testing. The carrier is scheduled for commissioning in 2015. The Ford is the first ship of a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers built by Newport News Shipbuilding for the U. S. Navy. Photo by Chris Oxley, Newport News Shipbuilding.
The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) floats in the James River. Photo by Chris Oxley, Newport News Shipbuilding.

The IG recommended the Navy “perform cost-benefit analyses to determine whether the AAG is an affordable solution for Navy aircraft carriers before deciding to go forward with the system on future aircraft carriers.”

Not exactly a vote of confidence.

Additionally, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) is calling for a Nunn-McCurdy breach to be applied to the AAG.  A Nunn-Mccurdy breach notifies Congress of major cost overruns on Major Defense Acquisition Programs. The SASC, in its markup for the 2017 defense policy bill, cited a cost growth of 186 percent for program acquisition unit cost over the original baseline estimate. Other significant aviation systems that have had a Nunn McCurdy breach in the past include F-35, E-2D Hawkeye, and AB3 Apache Block III.

The AAG will likely remain on both the USS Ford (CVN 78) and USS Kennedy (CVN 79) but questions remain for any future ships in the class. The Mk 7 system is a potential retrofit for CVN 80 and beyond. The primary concern of AAG is durability of the system.  Parts may wear down much faster than the requirement, requiring replacement at a much quicker pace than expected.

You can read the full story here

You can read the Inspector General report here

Top Photo credit: An F-18 Hornet traps using the Mk 7 arresting gear, Wikimedia