The emergence of a first-of-its kind F-35C carrier-launched stealth fighter is intended to give the Navy more combat attack flexibility and attack sophisticated enemy air defenses or fortified targets from a sea-based carrier. Such an ability can allow a maneuvering carrier to hold targets at risk from closer proximity if land-bases are far from the combat vicinity. The F-35C is a single seat, multi-role fighter aircraft designed to eventually replace the F/A-18 legacy Hornet.
The Navy and Huntington Ingalls Industries are beginning a massive upgrade and technical adjustment to its USS George Washington Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier -- to enable the ship to operate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and serve for 25-more years with newly configured structures, weapons systems, defenses, propulsion, computer automation and advanced digital networking technology.
The 48-month long process, called Refueling Complex Overhaul, is an aircraft carrier mid-life technological boost and refurbishment to include work on the hull, flight-deck, arresting gear, catapults and a remodification of the "island house" on the ship, Chris Miner, Vice President, Carrier Program, Huntington Ingalls, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The process involves upgrading and modernizing the nuclear propulsion plant and replacing valves on all of the generators and turbines. All of the ship's electrical systems will upgraded to digital including door locks, generators, sensors and computing.
The RCOH also includes the replacement of the non-skid coating system from the hangar bay and the 4 ½ acre flight deck. Major components such as the propellers, shafting, arresting gear engines, the island mast and propulsion plant equipment get removed, replaced or reconfigured with advanced technology.
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“The arresting gear engines will be removed, shipped to Lakehurst (Navy facility in Lakehurst, N.J.) and refurbished like new. They will be reinstalled into the ship to support another 25 years of service,” Miner added.
The RCOH process involves placing several coats of special corrosion-preventing paint on the hull so that it glides more smoothly through the ocean and is less likely to get attachments such as barnacles stuck on. The ship’s galley areas get refurbished and upgraded with improved comforts for sailors.
"A lot of areas get stripped down to essentially just the steel structure -- and get reconstructed as though they were new, such as the catapults,” an HII executive explained.
Overall, RCOH affords an occasion to execute substantial technological upgrades on the ship such as refueling the ship’s reactors and performing extensive modernization work on more than 2,300 compartments, 600 tanks and hundreds of systems, a Huntington Ingalls statement said.
Most aircraft carriers are currently configured with Sea Sparrow interceptor missiles designed to destroy incoming air and surface threats and the Phalanx Close-in-Weapons System, or CIWS. CIWS is a rapid-fire gun designed as an area weapon intended to protect ships from surface threats closer to the boat's edge, such as fast-attack boats.
During the RCOH, ship will receive upgraded weapons systems; to include Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), Evolved NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System, Close-In Weapons System (CIWS), Mk-38 25mm automatic gun systems, and Anti-Torpedo Defense Systems, Navy statements said. (Previous Navy statement on ship defense upgrades for RCOH CLICK HERE )
The Navy's Anti-Torpedo Defense System will be worked on as part of the RCOH; the system has been installed on several aircraft carriers, according to Navy officials.
The overall SSTD system, which consists of a sensor, processor and small interceptor missile, is a first-of-its-kind "hard kill" countermeasure for ships and carriers designed to defeat torpedoes, Navy officials said.
The emergence of a specifically-engineered torpedo defense system is quite significant for the Navy - as it comes a time when many weapons developers are contemplating new ship-defense technologies and considering various carrier configurations for the future in light of fast-emerging threats from long-range anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and hypersonic weapons. An ability to protect large carrier platforms from submarine-launched torpedo attacks adds a substantial element to a carrier’s layered defense systems.
Other elements of the Ship's Self-Defense System, along with other tactical network and intelligence systems and sensors will be upgraded as part of the RCOH as well.
The RCOH represents 35 percent of all maintenance and modernization in an aircraft carrier’s 50-year service life. After delivery in 2021, the USS George Washington will be one of the most modern and technologically advanced Nimitz-class aircraft carriers in the fleet, HII officials said. At the same time, although weapons and on-board power generation for the USS George Washington will be substantially improved through RCOH, a refurbished Nimitz-Class carrier will still have much less on-board electrical power compared to the Navy's new Ford-Class carriers; Ford-Class carriers are engineered with massive amounts of additional power-generation technology sufficient to potentially support emerging future weapons systems such as lasers and rail guns.