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Sea Services

Here’s a great shot of the stern section of the USS Gerald R. Ford being put into place at Huntington Ingalls’ Newport News, Va., shipyard. The Ford is the lead ship of the first new class of American supercarrier since the USS Nimitz entered service in 1975.

The new ship, slated for delivery in 2013, will feature a 21st Century nuclear power plant, electro-magnetic catapults and a redesigned flight deck meant to maximize the amount of take-offs and landings that can be performed.  Check out the massive rudders that are waiting to be joined to the hull.

From a Huntington Ingalls announcement on the Ford’s construction:

Gerald R. Ford is being built using modular construction, a process where smaller sections of the ship are welded together to form large structural units called superlifts. The superlifts are pre-outfitted and lifted into the construction dry dock with the shipyard’s 1,050-metric ton crane.

The final superlift of the ship’s aft end includes the steering gear rooms, electrical power distribution room, store rooms and tanks. At 90 feet long, 120 feet wide and 30 feet deep, the superlift was among the largest of the 162 that comprise Gerald R. Ford.

“This is among the top five largest superlifts in terms of dimension,” said Rolf Bartschi, NNS’ vice president of the CVN 78 Program. “What makes this lift especially impressive is that the unit was erected over the rudders already positioned in the dry dock. Precision is of utmost importance in shipbuilding, and our shipbuilders went to great lengths to construct this lift and successfully hoist it into place.”

Check out this crazy little vessel that’s been lurking around the harbor of the bucolic New England town of Portsmouth, NH. The stealthy looking boat is Juliet Marine’s Ghost, the first ever super-cavitating watercraft.

What’s that mean? It means the ship cuts through the water while encased in a bubble of self-generated, low-pressure gasses. A ship traveling inside this bubble generates 900-times less hull friction — and therefore noise — than a ship whose hull passes directly through water, making such craft nearly undetectable, according to Juliet Marine. It’s also much faster than previous stealth designs, according to the company.

The company is pitching the GHOST concept as a stealthy fleet protection asset that would be armed with a host of weapons and sensors. This breathlessly-worded press release pitches 150-foot-long GHOST ships as pirate/terrorist hunting badasses with the potential to replace the Littoral Combat Ship. It’s quite the pitch:

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Here are some thoughts on the significance of China’s new aircraft carrier that Andrew Erickson, an expert on the PLAN at the U.S. Naval War College, passed on to Defense Tech. While China’s “starter carrier” may not compare to one of the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz class supercarriers, it will make waves with China’s neighbors in the Western Pacific. Enjoy.

China’s Navy has finally realized its longtime dream of obtaining an aircraft carrier and putting it to sea. It has been a long road from the Guomindang’s 1929 rejection of naval commander Chen Shaokuan’s proposal for building a Chinese aircraft carrier to the acquisition and refitting of the former Ukrainian carrier Varyag in Dalian Naval Shipyard, a task essentially as complex as building a carrier from scratch.

On August 10, 82 years after Adm. Chen’s proposal, China’s first carrier disappeared into the fog under tight security at 0540 local time from Dalian Harbour’s Xianglujiao Port in northeast Liaoning Province to begin sea trials. Liaoning Maritime Safety Authority has declared a temporary exclusion zone in a rectangular sea area nearby.

A newly-wed couple wants a ‘starter home,’ a new great power wants a ‘starter carrier.’ China’s ‘starter carrier’ is of very limited military utility, and will serve primarily to confer prestige though naval diplomacy, to help master basic operational procedures, and to project a bit of power—perhaps especially vis-à-vis smaller neighbours in the South China Sea. Having avoided the winds and waves recently sent to the Yellow Sea by Typhoon Muifa, the carrier will subject China to even more diplomatic turbulence as its neighbors react to the reality that their giant neighbour now has a basically-functioning carrier. …

Erickson also tells DT that we may have be wrong in thinking the ex-Varyag is going to be commissioned as the Shi Lang (a Chinese admiral who first conquored Taiwan). Instead, the ship may well be named after the Chinese city of Tianjin in keeping with PLAN tradition.

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It’s not everyday that we write about World War II ships here at DT but this case is special and personal. The Fletcher class destroyer USS Cassin Young has been a staple of the Charlestown Navy Yard historic park in Boston for more than 30 years. She sits next to her much more famous yard-mate, the USS Constitution, providing an interesting view of two very different eras in U.S. naval history.

Now, the Cassin Young may (key word being may) hit the scrapyard if the National Park Service can’t find the funds to make $18.7 million in repairs to her hull, according to Boston Globe Magazine. The ship is in immaculate condition save for her hull, claims an engineering firm hired by the park service. The NPS says that in time of tight budgets it can’t afford to spend that kind of cash on repairs. To make matters worse, Park officials say they can’t leave her in one of the yard’s few functioning drydocks past 2014 because that’s when the Constitition is slated to go in for repairs. If she can’t be repaired or drydocked soon, park service officials tell the Globe Magazine that “scrapping the ship has to be on the table.”

As a kid, I spent countless weekends exploring the ship, getting to know her better than some of the tour guides.

The Cassin Young and her 174 sister Fletchers were the epitome of the U.S.’  World War II destroyer fleet known as the “Tin Can Navy.” They were small by today’s standards, fast, had a range of weaponry, and were mass-producible.  The ships could steam at 38 knots and performed a variety of missions from anti-aircraft radar picket duty, to antisubmarine warfare, shore bombardment and engaging oftentimes bigger enemy warships in direct fights.

The Cassin Young is one of only five Fletchers that remain today. Three others are museum ships in the United States and Greece while the former DD-574 USS John Rodgers (the longest serving Fletcher) has sat derelict at a pier since being retired by the Mexican Navy in 2001.

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So the Navy is going to replace its small fleet of EP-3 Aries signals intelligence aircraft with a “family” of $8 billion worth of drones by 2020. This is important because it marks the first time that one of the bigger intel birds is being replaced by UAVs — a concept that’s been talked about for a while.

From Flight Global:

The US Navy has confirmed plans to retire the special mission versions of the Lockheed P-3 by 2020, and replace them with an all-unmanned fleet.

The decision comes as a blow to contractors who had been hoping to extend the service life of the fleet beyond 2020, or introduce new manned aircraft as replacements.

In written responses to the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month, incoming chief of naval operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said the navy’s ageing EP-3 Aries and special projects aircraft will be retired in 2019 and 2020.

They will be replaced by an $8 billion investment over the next five years in a family of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, Greenert said.

Those investments include $1.1 billion in the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout, $3.9 billion in the Northrop RQ-4N broad area maritime surveillance aircraft, $2.5 billion in the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike programme and $1.1 billion in the medium-range maritime unmanned aircraft system.

The EP-3 carries a 24-man crew and a host of sensors designed to vacuum up enemy communications and sensor signals. Remember when one was forced to make an emergency landing in China a decade ago?

Boeing was hoping to produce a variant of its 737-based P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol jet as a replacement for the EP-3 in the same way the P-8 is replacing the P-3 Orion. Back to the drawing board, fellas.

This is also significant because the Air Force is conducting an analysis of alternatives for how it will continue to perform the ground scanning radar mission performed by the fleet of E-8 Joint STARS radar jets made from modified Boeing 707s. The Chicago-based Boeing had hoped to pitch a 737-based plane similar to the P-8 to replace the J-STARS. The Air Force is already eyeing UAVs as one possible way to continue the JSTARS mission. The question now is; if the Navy moves ahead with its effort to replace the EP-3 with a drone, could it push the Air Force toward doing the same with the JSTARS? We’ll see. Yes, the EP-3 and E-8 perform different missions but they’re both large, old and manned intel planes.

Here’s the rest of the Flight article.