The USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy's new supercarrier, can now land all of the service's planes, except for its new stealth fighter.
The Advanced Arresting Gear has been given a green light to recover all “propeller and jet” aircraft, to include the C-2A Greyhound, E-2C Hawkeye and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and E/A-18G Growler, the Navy said in a statement Tuesday.
These aircraft can all conduct flight operations aboard the Ford.
The arresting gear is critical to the aircraft recovery process, the return of aircraft to the carrier. The Advanced Arresting Gear, one of more than 20 new technologies incorporated into the Ford-class carriers, is a system of tensioned wires that the planes snag with tailhooks, a necessary system given the shortness of the carrier's runway. The AAG is designed to recover a number of different aircraft, as well as reduce the stress on the planes, with decreased manpower all while maintaining top safety standards.
“This achievement is another significant step toward ensuring the system can support the ship's full air wing,” explained Capt. Ken Sterbenz, program manager for the Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment Program, in a statement.
The Navy explained that the Advanced Arresting Gear gives the USS Gerald R. Ford “the warfighting capability essential for air dominance in the 21st century.”
Missing from the list of recoverable aircraft is noticeably the F-35C, a carrier-based variant of a new fifth-generation stealth fighter designed to help the Navy confront modern threats.”
The Nimitz-class and Ford-class aircraft carriers, by design, can operate with F-35Cs,” Capt. Daniel Hernandez, a spokesperson for the Navy acquisitions chief, previously told INSIDER.
“There are,” he added, “modifications to both carrier classes that are required to fully employ the capabilities of the F-35s and enable them to be more effective on a full length deployment.”
An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 flies over the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford. (U.S. Navy/Erik Hildebrandt)
Those modifications are expected to be completed after the carrier is delivered to the fleet, meaning that when the Navy gets its aircraft carrier, which is already behind schedule and over budget, back from the shipyard, it will not be able to deploy with the F-35C.
Congress has previously expressed concerns about the inability of the new supercarriers to launch and recover the new stealth fighters, as well as the Navy's practice of accepting unfinished carriers to skirt budget constraints.
In particular, lawmakers called attention to the Navy's plans to not only accept the Ford without the important ability to launch and recover F-35s but to also accept the subsequent USS John F. Kennedy without this capability.
It is “unacceptable to our members that the newest carriers can't deploy with the newest aircraft,” explained a congressional staffer in June.
The Navy argues that these carriers will be able to launch and recover F-35s by the time the relevant air wing is stood up.
The Navy continues to work the kinks out of the Ford, having fixed problems with the propulsion system, the catapults, and the arresting gear, among other systems.
The biggest obstacle, however, continues to be the Advanced Weapons Elevators, systems essential for the rapid movement of bombs and missiles to the flight deck for higher aircraft sortie rates.
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