US Navy Plans Fix for General Atomics’ Catapult Problem on USS Gerald Ford

The US Navy's newest carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, might have a big problem with their power projection, according to a Bloomberg article published in March of 2015. The U.S. Navy’s top warplanes can’t be launched off the Ford if they are carrying fuel tanks needed to extend their flight range because the ship’s high-tech catapults cause too much wear.

The 480-gallon tanks for extended flights are carried under the wings of two models of the F/A-18, the Super Hornet fighter and the Growler jamming aircraft. The carrier’s electromagnetic launch system, made by General Atomics, puts more stress on the tanks than older, steam-powered catapults, and according to the test office and Navy documents, would cause premature damage to the planes. This is a significant problem, but the Navy is ready to take it on. According to an email from Mark Gunzinger, an air-power analyst with the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, “It’s a big deal to fix it, but the Navy thinks it can be done.”

Commander Thurraya Kent told Bloomberg that the Navy is "aware of this issue and in close coordination with structural and systems engineers," who are testing the system "and/or aircraft-based alternatives to address the situation.” The issue will be addressed through a software update meant to reduce the force exerted on aircraft during launches, which will be tested in March of 2016. This will happen after the Ford has been delivered from Huntington Ingalls to the Navy.

Headquartered in sunny San Diego, California, General Atomics is a defense contractor that specializes in nuclear physics. The company performs research into nuclear fission and nuclear fusion which has allowed it to expand into other fields of research and manufacturing. General Atomics develops systems ranging from the nuclear fuel cycle to remotely operated surveillance aircraft, airborne sensors, advanced electric, electronic, wireless, and laser technologies.

Founded in 1955, General Atomics has consistently been a force in the aerospace and defense industry and in 2014, placed 45th on Defense News’ annual list of the world’s 100 largest defense contractors. According to Defense News, General Atomics obtained $2.1 billion in defense revenue in 2013, a drop of $311 million compared with a year earlier. The decline caused General Atomics to slip three spots in the rankings. The company, which is split into Aeronautical Systems and Electronic Systems, employs just over 7,500 workers locally.

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