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.
The RCOH was recently formalized through a $2.8 billion deal between the Navy and HII. The USS Lincoln was the most recent carrier to go through the RCOH process. The USS Lincoln is already being configured to operate the F-35C.
Stealthy F-35C to Aircraft Carriers
The RCOH for the USS George Washington will focus heavily on a host of technical adjustments designed to help the carrier accommodate the emerging F-35C carrier-launched stealth fighter – once it is ready for operational service.
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's future aircraft carrier-based air wings will consist of a mix of F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft such as the Navy Osprey.
Prior to eventual future deployment, developmental testing of the aircraft has been focused on advancing what’s called carrier integration and carrier qualification – efforts to seamlessly integrate the new aircraft into the carrier platform and carrier air wing, service officials said.
Stealthy F-35C carrier aircraft, having a lower radar signature, are expected to deliver advanced attack and air-to-air and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, able to perform a wider range of operations without being detected by an enemy.
The aircraft is part of a broader Navy strategy to be well equipped in the event that it needs to engage in massive, major-power war against a near-peer adversary such as Russia and China known to have advanced air-defenses and air-to-air platforms.
The F-35C - the Navy's and Marine Corps' carrier-suitable variant (CV) – is designed to combine unprecedented at-sea stealth with fighter speed and agility, fused targeting, cutting-edge avionics, advanced jamming, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.
Being engineered for a carrier, the F-35C's 51-foot wingspan is larger than the Air Force's F-35A and Marine Corps' F-35B short take-off-and-landing variants. The fighter is configured to carry 19,000 pounds of fuel and 18,000 pounds of weapons. An empty F-35C weighs approximately 35,000 pounds. It can fire two AIM-120 air-to-air missiles and two 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions. The F-35C can reach speeds up to Mach 1.6 and travel more than 1,200 nautical miles.
In a previously released document described as the "Naval Aviation Vision," the F-35C is described as being engineered with reinforced landing gear and durable coatings to allow the F-35C to withstand harsh shipboard conditions while delivering a lethal combination of fighter capabilities to the fleet.
The full complement of armaments for the F-35C is designed to maximize its potential mission envelope and allow it to drop laser and GPS-guided precision Joint Direct Attack Munitions, use air-to-air weapons in the event that the aircraft needs to dogfight or destroy enemy drones and fire a 25mm gun. Use of a 25mm gun could, among other things, improve the prospect of close-air support or surface attacks against enemy ships.
During prior testing, the F-35C took off with one GBU-31, two AIM-120s and four GBU-12s along with its 25mm gun mounted in a pod on the aircraft.
The F-35C is also able to fire the AIM-9X along with other weapons; in the future it will have an ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb II - a high-tech weapon now in development able to track and destroy moving targets from great distances using a tri-mode seeker. The SDB II uses millimeter wave, laser and infrared guidance technology.
Both the training and the continued technology development of the F-35C include efforts to refine a precision-landing technology called Joint Precision Approach & Landing Systems, or JPALs.
JPALS, slated to be operational by 2019, works with the GPS satellite navigation system to provide accurate, reliable and high-integrity guidance for fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, Navy statements said.
Also, Navy information described JPALS as a system featuring anti-jam protection to ensure mission continuity in hostile environments. “JPALS is a differential GPS that will provide an adverse weather precision approach and landing capability,” a Navy statement said.