By Geoff Fein

Testing on the giant motor generator that will be used to power the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) on the Navy’s next-generation carrier, the Gerald R. Ford, should wrap-up next month at General Atomics‘ Tupelo, Miss., facility, a Navy official said.

The 90,000-pound motor that is placed deep inside the aircraft carrier as workers are building the structure has completed more than 6,700 out of 10,000 planned cycles, Capt. Randy Mahr, program manager for aircraft launch and recovery equipment, told Defense Daily in an interview earlier this week.

"That reduces the risk that the motor generator has any fundamental problems. And then we will go and start putting some of those components on order for the ship," he said.

After several concerns surfaced late last year, the Navy faced the potential of seeing EMALS terminated.

The issues surrounding the EMALS program became so troublesome toward the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008 that, as recently as a few months ago, Navy Secretary Donald Winter had been briefed on whether EMALS should be terminated, according to a source. In the end, the direction to the program was to continue forward.

General Atomics builds EMALS.

Last year, as EMALS was preparing for its critical design review (CDR), the decision was made to break up the review into multiple design reviews, Mahr said. "That led up to a major system review that happened last November."

EMALS got through the design reviews in pretty good shape, Mahr noted, but officials did identify some unaccounted risk.

"The biggest risk that they identified last fall, in November…going through CDR, was with the ability to manage production, control risk, and get it onboard CVN-78," said Mahr, who jointed the program in April 2008.

"We did go back and re-plan the test and evaluation program. Instead of being just technically driven, it is now equally driven by the schedule," he said.

That was done to reduce the risk in making the "buy decisions" for the ship, Mahr said.

As the Navy pursued that front, they also brought in Northrop Grumman [NOC] Shipbuilding as a partner on EMALS, he added.

Originally, PMA 251 (Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment) and General Atomics were writing the schedule to do technical, Mahr said.

"Now…we have Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding as a partner in that test and evaluation schedule and we are managing the test and evaluation in order to meet the needs of the end user," he added.

Mahr acknowledges that in the end it was all very hard, but the Navy and its industry partners came up with a better product.

"And the Navy fully supported the funding issues to make all of this work and we are doing that while holding on to the CVN-78 schedule," he said.

The Navy requested a $37 million increase for EMALS in FY ’08, a Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) spokeswoman said.

EMALS is the catapult system for the ship, in essence making EMALS and CVN-78 tied together, Mahr said. The system will only go on new construction aircraft carriers beginning with CVN-78. It will not be retrofitted onto any Nimitz-class ships, he added. "Everything from the Ford-class forward will have EMALS."

The Navy began to examine that arrangement more closely and questioned whether the technology was viable, Mahr said.

"They brought in what is now known as the production assessment review. They had some SES engineers from NAVSEA (Naval Sea Systems Command), NAVAIR, General Atomics and Northrop Grumman come in and take a look at the program…the technology, what the individual risks were for the major subsystems, and how those were going to play against the CVN-78 production schedule," Mahr explained.

That review lasted until about February 2008. At that point, officials began doing some out briefs, he added.

In parallel with those briefings, a Government Accountability Office report was published that said many of the same things the Navy later acknowledged–that the schedule had slipped, there was an increase in the production risk relative to the ship, and there was probably some funding issues, Mahr said. "Those pieces all came out at the same time."

Another issue was that the relationships between the Navy and General Atomics became a bit strained, Mahr said.

"Through that, as you can imagine, there was a lot of self-assessment going on. There was a lot of what could have been perceived as non-constructive criticism. Both the Navy and General Atomics took some efforts to adjust their management and teaming," he added.

"On the General Atomics side, they brought in a very experienced manager and he came in and looked at his contractor team and made the decision from last fall to this spring to align them much more closely to what NAVAIR traditionally looks for…systems engineering orientation, fiscal orientation, so we look at spend plans together, we look at cash flow issues…he aligned his team and General Atomics much closer to the Navy," Mahr said.

On the Navy side, the decision was made to take the program, which had been under NAVAIR’s Air 1.0 organization, and move it into the Program Executive Office Tactical (PEO T) aircraft.

"They did that for a couple of reasons," Mahr explained. "PEO T has all the other aircraft programs and we have a lot of experience in PEO T managing large complex integration programs like [EMALS]."

So as efforts were occurring to adjust the management and look at all the technical issues, the Navy also began looking at risk to CVN-78, Mahr said.

The Navy decided to alter the way it was managing EMALS, Mahr said.

When buying components for CVN-78, one of the challenges Mahr noted was that the Navy was managing the buy on behalf of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding from General Atomics.

Mahr is managing EMALS for PEO Carriers (PMS 378). He would buy everything from General Atomics for both development and production. Mahr would then pass those components along to PMS 378, which would then, in turn, hand those parts off to Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding.

"That’s a fairly long road to go to get to what we really need to do, which is minimum schedule risk and equipment into the yard," Mahr said.

"So the Navy made the decision in the spring to take production responsibility for CVN-78 and let the two contractors handle that," Mahr added. "They are very good at that, they know how to work together, they know how to do production."

Mahr is still managing all the development, but the production piece, which was one of those risk items the program identified last fall, has been handed over to the two contractors to figure out how to make that work, he said.

So Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding will buy the production EMALS components directly from General Atomics. The money still flows from PMS 378, but instead of flowing through Mahr’s program office, it now goes directly to the shipbuilding contract, he said.

"In a risk perspective, that basically got the Navy from being the middle man between two contractors," Mahr said. "It took a while to come to that. But at the point we are at right now, the risk relatively for production is not as high…not from a technical perspective, it’s more from a schedule perspective."