Our initial goal is to build, demonstrate and qualify the FIRECAT upgrade to the current C13 steam catapults for the Nimitz Class carriers to use a combustion gas based energy source rather than steam to drive the current catapult launch engines. This modification increases the launch capability by a factor of four plus allows soft start, reducing the initial 5+ G launch acceleration to less than 2G, lengthening the life of the aircraft being launched
This will allow the launch of a wider range of weights and launch speeds for present and future vehicles, both manned and unmanned under full closed loop control to insure a more precise and controlled rate of acceleration over the entire launch event. This allows the capability for launching planes at full flying speed while tied to the pier.
The goals are to simplify the C13-2 launch system to increase the launch capacity, provide closed loop control of acceleration and end speeds of the C13-2 catapult. This iis accomplished by addition of the Internal Combustion Catapult Aircraft Launch System (ICCALS) technology modification. This modification will allow the reduction of manning currently required to maintain and operate the C13-2 steam catapults.
The rationale for this technology proposal is that the Navy has indicated, via the upgraded performance for the EMALS electromagnetic catapult, that the current C13 steam catapults are unable to perform the full range of tasks that will be asked of them in the future.
The EMALS catapult was designed to fulfill that range of tasks and should be able to meet all of the future launch needs for CVN 78 and future aircraft carriers.
The EMALS launch system cannot be backfit to CVN77 and earlier Nimitz Class carriers. This is due to the inability of the current Nimitz A4W propulsion/generating plant to support the electrical energy demands of EMALS and of the cost of the redesign and rework of the Nimitz Class carrier to support the volume and weight requirements of the EMALS energy storage system composed of 12 very large motor located high above the waterline.
Given this inability to backfit EMALS to earlier carriers to provide the full range of performance capabilities defined by the Navy as needed for future aircraft carrier launch, I am re-introducing the ICCALS as a backfit technology to the Nimitz Class carriers. I originally proposed the ICCALS catapult technology in 1995 and it was was planned by the Navy to compete against EMALS for on CVN77. The EMALS and ICCALS catapults were both to be developed and a technology competition was to take place between the two. In 1998, the decision was taken by the Navy, due to NASA offering to co-fund electromagnetic launch, to go forward only with EMALS which is currently undergoing qualification trials and to drop the ICCALS catapult for future carriers.
As a backfit to the existing Nimitz Class carriers, the Internal Combustion Aircraft Launch System (ICCALS) steam catapult conversion technology upgrades the current C13-Mod 2 steam catapults to be:
- Greatly simplified with a reduction in maintenance and operating manpower
- Capable of a constant or increasing acceleration launch which allows elimination of the 5+g peak to mean acceleration at the start of the launch. This will lengthen the aircraft airframe life and ease launch stresses on the pilot.
- More powerful than any current or planned catapult system including EMALS.
- Extremely controllable over the full launch stroke due to closed loop control of the energy input, allowing a large range of planes or weapons to be launched.
- Capable of launching a much wider range of launch weights and speeds. This adds the capability of launching a large variety of Unmanned Air Vehicles and sled mounted cruise missiles and self defense missiles from the upgraded catapults along with the heaviest fighter bombers
- Lighter installed weight than the C13-2 catapult. This modification removes 780,000+ pounds of equipment/hanger, foundation and structure weight from the current C13-2 steam catapults 50+ foot above the waterline which increases ship stability and metacentric height for the currently stability critical Nimitz carriers.
- Less volume intensive. Large spaces currently devoted to steam accumulators, large hot piping and cross-connecting valves/hangers and foundations will be freed for other ship requirements (see linked white paper and Graphics page).
- Capable of incorporating remaining launch engine hardware to the maximum possible extent. This greatly increases existing catapult flexibility and range of capability at a small installation and operating cost and reduced development effort.
- Able to reduce or eliminate wind over deck requirement for launched planes due to higher launch end speeds.
- Supportive of alternate solutions to the current water brake and retraction engine technologies, simplifying even further the existing FIRECAT modified catapult launch engine.
- Able to extend the life of the propulsion plant by eliminating propulsion plant core burn related to catapult operations, particularly high speed ship runs within the launch box.
- Capable of reducing distillate fresh water demand for catapult operation by 90% .
- Capable of being installed on any flat-top ship such as a LHA or a converted commercial ship with the Langley (CV-1) converted from a Collier as an example.
The Internal Combustion Catapult (FIRECAT), once qualified, should be easily installable aboard a Nimitz Class carrier in two SRAs with two catapults upgraded in each SRA.
The decision to proceed with FIRECAT development provides an inexpensive path to gain a very large increase in launch capability, a substantial reduction in airframe launch stresses for the current fleet of aircraft, reduction in operations and maintenance. The manpower requirements for the current Nimitz Class are reduced and further reduced by evolution and further simplification of the C13 FIRECAT
The FIRECAT upgrade will not only pay for itself but provide a very large savings each year just in reduction of replacement costs of air wing aircraft due to airframe life extension and in the shipboard manpower reduction for operation and maintenance of the simplified C-13-2 catapult, particularly as these savings continue post-installation for the remaining life of the ship.
A modern CVAN, more capable and packing more punch than many air forces, has an aviation compliment of roughly 2,500 personnel (Wickipedia) and consists of roughly 60-65 aircraft from between seven and nine front line squadrons depending on their aircraft type.
A reduction in personnel of 200 personnel due to catapult simplification and reduction in maintenance requirements, at an average cost of $64,140 per individual (including BAS and BAH) would be a savings of $12.828 million per year or $320.7 million over a 25 year ship half-life.
For an air wing of 65 planes at an average procurement cost for F18 E/F fighters of $58 million at a planned life of of 20 years, the aircraft investment is $3,770 million with a per yer cost of $188.5 million. Therefore, a 10% life extension due to airframe launch stress reduction is worth $18.85 million or a total savings of $18.85 + $12.28 million (personnel) = $31.13 million savings per year per CVAN
Given this number, a 4 catapult FIRECAT upgrade costing $60 million should have a payback period of 1.92 years at $15 million per catapult and a savings of $778 million over 25 years life of the carrier. Plus an additional $778 million for a second 25 years for a total new-build lifetime reduction in cost of $1.556 billion.
For 11 carriers, that is a net operating savings of more than $8.558 billion dollars over an average operating life of 25 years after refuelling. If a full 50 year life, , the ICCALS savings would be $17.116 billion dollars (minus the cost of the launch cylinders and retraction engine and water brake, all of which can be retained and substantially simplified) compared to steam catapults over the 50 year life of the carriers. This is in addition to avoided costs such as eliminating an electromagnetic launch system estimated at at $810 million for CVAN 80 and later.
The Navy cannot afford to not install this catapult upgrade on the current Nimitz Class and future Ford Class carriers.