By Geoff Fein

Just a few weeks after the Navy acknowledged it was looking at the impact of retuning to steam catapults on CVN-78, the service has reaffirmed its commitment to the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS).

"This decision is based on completion of an extensive review of the EMALS program, which included consideration of many significant factors and represents a balance between cost, schedule, technical performance, and consideration of the risks to each," Lt. Cmdr. Victor Chen, a Navy spokesman, told Defense Daily Wednesday.

Overall, the Navy determined that the remaining risks to completion of the EMALS development program are such that continuation with EMALS represents the best option to maintain the delivery schedule for CVN-78 and provide the needed capability for the future force, he added.

"To ensure the program delivers on schedule, while limiting cost growth, the Navy is entering into detailed, fixed-price contract negotiations for procurement of production- level equipment while implementing additional risk management efforts associated with completion of development testing, production planning, installation and test," Chen said.

EMALS is built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

EMALS technology promises to lower overall lifecycle costs, require less maintenance than steam catapults and generate less physical stress on carrier-based aircraft. EMALS also provides an increased sortie rate over steam systems, which fulfills a key performance parameter for the new CVN class, Chen added.

The demise of EMALS has been the subject of rumors following acknowledgement by the Navy of a 60-day schedule slip and an increase in the cost to manufacture the system (Defense Daily, April 15).

On April 1, Allison Stiller, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for ships, testified before the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee that the Navy was seeking input from industry on the cost and schedule impact of switching to a steam catapult.

But Wednesday’s statement from the Navy that it is proceeding with EMALS as the aircraft launching system of record for CVN-78 should put a rest to those rumors.

This summer, the catapult at Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst, N.J., will be commissioned, followed by testing of the armature–the component that pulls the aircraft down the catapult. A few months later, the Navy will begin shooting dead loads on the catapult (Defense Daily, April 15).

In calendar year ’10, full length, full power, full weight dead load testing will take place, all leading up to the first aircraft tests toward the end of 2010.