Naval Air: July 30, 2003


For the first time since the 1960s, the US Navy is designing a new class of aircraft carrier. Among the objectives of the new design is an increased sortie rate. The current Nimitz-Class supercarriers are capable of only 120 sorties per day due to limits in the ships' design. 

Nimitz and her predecessors were designed before precision-guided weapons, electronic warfare, and stealth technologies matured. Strike tactics in the late 1960s envisioned swarms of aircraft surging from the carrier to overwhelm a single well-defended target from multiple directions. With modern technology, a single airplane can do the job of many. Today's requirement is a steady high-volume flow for which the Nimitz-Class was not designed. 

Developing the new carrier meant first studying the current process and what it had evolved into over fifty-plus years. The Navy employed a number of techniques pioneered by Toyota to reduce waste in automotive manufacturing, known collectively as "lean process engineering." First the service documented each step of the sortie process, preparing the aircraft, preparing the weapons, arming, fueling, plane handling on deck, last minute diagnostic and maintenance, etc.. With the process documented, engineers studied each step to determine which tasks added value and which were a waste of time. They found a lot of waste. 

To move ordnance from below deck magazines to the flight deck was a two-hour process involving a full quarter mile of travel through the mess deck, a hangar bay, and a series of weapons elevators. The new design uses automated equipment below deck to move weapons to the elevators. The elevators will go straight up to bomb farms on the flight deck where "red shirt" ordnance men will assemble them and arm the nearby aircraft. The time to prepare weapons is reduced from hours to minutes.

The island superstructure, smaller and stealthier than Nimitz, will move aft. In front of it will be a "pit stop" area. Between the landing area of the deck and the forward catapults, the pit stop's location suggests that aircraft could be landed, serviced, and relaunched in minutes. Short fuel hoses will be located to the side of the pit, replacing long, poorly located hoses currently dragged back and forth across the deck. Diagnostic test stations will provide maintenance technicians quick answers to their questions. Most importantly, the overhauled weapons delivery system will allow mission-specific munitions to be loaded on short notice. All told the new carriers will be able to launch 150-160 sorties per day continuously or 220 sorties in one day with advanced preparation and recovery time afterwards. -AJ Wagner 


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