WASHINGTON — A key system on aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford forced the cancelation of an at-sea test in August, but the ship successfully completed an overseas mission in the fall after the U.S. Navy installed a new replacement part.

A Pentagon test and evaluation office noted in a January report the Ford’s jet blast deflector — the large panel that raises just before a jet is catapulted off the flight deck to protect the ship and sailors from intense heat — was among the systems with ongoing reliability problems that hindered the ship from reaching its promised efficiency.

“The reliability of [Ford’s] catapults, arresting gear, and jet blast deflectors (JBDs) continues to have an adverse effect on sortie generation and flight operations efficiency,” according to the report from the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.

Indeed, the ship had to return early from an at-sea period in August 2022 because of unexpected problems with the jet blast deflectors. As a result, Ford wasn’t able to complete planned carrier qualifications.

The report notes that electro mechanical actuators that raise and lower the panels on Ford-class carriers were at the heart of the jet blast deflector reliability problems. The Navy has made several modifications to the deflectors, but still, during the August underway, the ship saw actuator-related failures in all four jet blast deflectors on the flight deck.

The service found the failure was caused by “corroded fasteners in various components” of the electro mechanical actuators, according to the report.

The Navy installed a new part and got through a September carrier qualification event without the jet blast deflectors hindering flight deck operations, DOT&E noted.

In fact, the Navy told Defense News, the carrier also saw “zero issues during the recent service retained deployment” from early October to late November, in which the carrier operated on both sides of the Atlantic under U.S. Navy control, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Travis Callaghan said.

“Lessons learned from the root cause analysis for the fastener components have been incorporated” into the production line for the future John F. Kennedy, Enterprise and Doris Miller, he added.

Additionally, the DOT&E report cited ongoing reliability issues with the carrier’s catapult and arrested landing systems, the pivotal gear that gets planes on and off the flight deck.

“The ongoing reliability problems with these critical subsystems remains the primary risk to the successful completion of CVN 78″ operational testing planned to last until the end of fiscal 2024, the report noted.

Both the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System and Advanced Arresting Gear remain below the required mean time between operational mission failure. The report found that both had improved their failure rates, but during the September underway period their “reliability appeared to regress” and the systems hindered the pace of flight deck operations.

The report said the Navy will continue to look at improving the reliability of components within those systems and should have better parts in place by the end of fiscal 2023.

Callaghan told Defense News the Navy uses a different metric from DOT&E and sees improvement in the reliability of the catapult and arresting gear systems.

DOT&E examined how often the system fails, finding the arresting gear in particular is still experiencing a failure of some kind far more frequently than it should.

The Navy, though, measures the percentage of time the system works. A quickly resolved failure doesn’t significantly hurt the Navy’s metrics, but counts the same as a longer lasting failure under DOT&E’s metric.

Callaghan said the launch and landing systems are working about 98% of the time.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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