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How China got its EMALS

By Saurabh Misra - posted Thursday, 7 December 2017


Last month two articles were published in the South China Morning Post (1st November and 19th November) reporting that China had developed its own Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS) for aircraft carriers. The articles elaborate on how China's EMALS is an improved and 2nd (next) generation version of the EMALS used in United States Ford Class Aircraft Carriers built by General Atomics.

This article tells how this has been possible for China in such a short period of time (2-3 years), while the United States took nearly 25 years in developing and perfecting the system beginning in the 1990s and ending in 2017 with the launch of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) Aircraft Carrier.

General Atomics Electromagnetic Launch Systems (GA-EMS) is the sole provider of of Advance Arressting Gear (AAG) and EMALS for Ford-class carriers, including CVN 78 and the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), which is currently under construction, and the future USS Enterprise (CVN 80).

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Even though there are still lingering questions being raised about the usefulness of EMALS, GA-EMS has already been awarded contracts for maintaining the systems in CVN 78 and for developing the Systems for future CVN79 and CVN80.

GA- EMS is to work with several other prime contractors in the EMALS program. The list of prime contractors and their contributions in the development of Systems for EMALS and AAG is given below-

  • GA's Electromagnetic Systems Division – Electromagnetic System Design and Fabrication, System; Integration, Power Electronics and Controls, Software, and Logistics;
  • Alion Science and Technology – Specialty Engineering;
  • Kato Engineering – Energy Storage Systems Manufacture;
  • L3 Communications' Applied Technologies Pulse Sciences – Power Electronics;
  • QinetiQ's Foster Miller, Inc. – Control Systems, System Health Monitoring;
  • STV, Inc. – Test Site Design/Integration, Naval System Logistics;
  • University of Texas at Austin Center for Electromechanics – Energy Storage Systems Design and Analysis.

General Atomics' related Advanced Arresting Gear team, which is part of the larger ALRE program and can be ordered under EMALS contracts, include:

  • GA's Electromagnetic Systems Division – Systems Integration, Cable Drum and Cable Shock Absorber, Power Electronics/ Controls/ Software, Arresting Controls Software, System Health Monitoring, Test Site Design and Integration;
  • Alion Science and Technology – Shipboard Integration, Thermal Systems, Electric Power;
  • Curtiss-Wright Electro-Mechanical Corporation – Electric Motor;
  • ESCO Corporation – Water Twister and Mechanical Brake Systems;
  • ITT Corporation – Naval System Logistics;
  • QinetiQ's Foster Miller, Inc. – Control Workstations;

These prime contractors in the EMALS program used sub-systems like processors, transistors, transformers, inverter ,etc provided by Freescale Semiconductors (now NXP). While some of these sub-system were purchased commercially of the shelf (COTs) while others were developed especially for the EMALS program by Freescale (NXP) along with these prime contractors.

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The following dates and events demonstrate how the use of these sub systems provided by Freescale (NXP) to the prime contractors of the EMALS program has severely and irreparably compromised it :

1948- Freescale was one of the first semiconductor companies in the world, having started as a division of Motorola in Phoenix, Arizona, United States.

1968: NASA's Apollo Program was particularly significant for hundreds of employees involved in designing, testing and producing its electronics.

The division of Motorola which would eventually become Freescale Semiconductor, supplied thousands of semiconductor devices, ground-based tracking and checkout equipment, and 12 on-board tracking and communications units to NASA. They also supplied Semiconductors and other equipment to the US defence establishment.

1999: Based on research in the 1990s preliminary contracts awarded to two prime contractors -Northrop Grumman and General Atomics, both teamed with numerous subcontractors, for independently developing demonstration systems for the next generation aircraft carrier with EMALS capability.

2004: Freescale Semiconductors became autonomous by the divestiture of the Semiconductor Products Sector of Motorola. General Atomics was awarded a System Development and Demonstration (SDD) contract that will include the design, fabrication, delivery, integration, test and support of one full scale, full length, shipboard representative Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) for NAVAIR at Naval Airforce Engineering Station, Lakehurst, N.J.

2006: Ownership of Freescale Semiconductors changed hands and was taken over by a consortium led by US based Blackstone group. Name of Freescale Semiconductors remained unchanged and it continued being a supplier, contractor, subcontractor, vendor or a licensor for various entities charged with developing systems for application in defence and space industry.

2009: Due to hurdles and delay in development of EMALS a hearing of the US Congress Oversight Committee on Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System was held.

2011: Multicore for Avionics (MCFA) working group was established of avionics companies and Freescale. The group consisted of Freescale, BAE Systems, BARCO, Boeing, EADS, ELBIT, GE Aviation, Hamilton Sunstrand, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Thales as they used Freescale commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) embedded multicore processor and other systems. Most of these companies are prime contractors for United States Airforce. Freescale Semiconductor entered into a strategic alliance with Fuji Electric Co Ltd to collaborate on developing improved insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) technology. Insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) chips are a key component of the high-efficiency electric energy conversion systems used in variable-speed drives, trains, electric and hybrid electric vehicles, power grids,renewable energy plants and EMALS.

2014: Freescale Semiconductor's (US semiconductor company) 20 employees disappeared along with flight MH370.

2015: Freescale Semiconductor (US) was acquired by NXP Semiconductor (Netherlands). Joint Venture of NXP Semiconductors and Beijing JianGuang Asset Management Co. Ltd (JAC Capital) was formed and named as WeEn Semiconductors, China. Jianguang Asset Management formed a new company called Ampleon out of the RF Power Division sold to it by NXP Semiconductors for $1.8 billion. China gained access to all products produced by RF power division and NXP stops producing them.

2016: NXP sold its Standard Products business ("Nexperia") to a consortium of financial investors consisting of Beijing Jianguang Asset Management Co., Ltd ("JAC Capital") and Wise Road Capital LTD ("Wise Road Capital") for $2.75 billion. Nexperia is a stand-alone, world-class leader in Discretes, Logic and MOSFETs.

Thus China got all the expertise, manufacturing resources and key personnel of the former NXP division which no longer had any right over these products as they now will have to be sourced from China's Nexperia.

After total divestment from it RF Power Division (Ampleon) and Standard product bussiness (Nexperia) and after formation of joint venture(WeEn) NXP has laid off a total of 25000 employees worldwide including US.

2017: Qualcomm (US) has agreed to buy NXP Semiconductors or in other words whatever remains of it after sale of its businesses (Nexperia, Ampleon, WeEN to China) for $39 billion.

Broadcom Limited ( formerly Avago Technologies, owned by Hock Tan and incorporated in Singapore) is in talks for acquiring both Qualcomm and remaining part of NXP.

Breakthrough announced in South China Morning Post by China in developing its own Improved EMALS technology which was done by use of advanced insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) chips.

This sudden development of in house EMALS technology by China was only made possible due to acquisition of semiconductor companies-WeEn, Ampleon and Nexperia, which were acquired via sale of Freescale Semiconductors (NXP)'s Bipolar Power Division, RF Power division and Standards Products Division respectively and also by acquisition of some other European semiconductor companies.

These semiconductor, processor, IGBT and inverter technologies which were treasured and developed by the United States since 1948 and formed the backbone of the inventions made by its defence establishment including NASA, were clandestinely and cleverly, taken by the Chinese while the people in power in the United States were in a deep narcoleptic sleep.

Now, the final result of all this is that the existing fleet (assets) of the United States Navy and United States Airforce which were using system made using Freescale (NXP) components will have to source the products from companies owned by China as those components are no longer produced by NXP. General Atomics, Northrop Grumman,Curtiss-Wright all use Freescale (NXP) components.

Even the future fleet of the United States Navy and Airforce will be effected unless a new vendor for the components earlier provided by NXP(Freescale) is decided upon. A recent example is May 2017- Curtiss-Wright- $9 million Navy contract to provide single-board computers for surface warships-92 VME-183 single-board computers for the U.S. Navy and 50 computer boards for the Japanese navy. The VME-183 general-purpose embedded computing processor board uses one or two NXP (formerly Freescale) MPC7447A/7448 Power Architecture processors with AltiVec technology.

The recent crashes of US aircraft and collisions of naval ships may also have a relation to these past events as they may have been using parts supplied by China owned companies which are no longer produced by NXP (Freescale) Semiconductors.

In Sept 2017 Trump Administration blocked a deal between Lattice Semiconductor (United States) and China Venture Capital Fund Corporation which is just a single step taken in the right direction but its also a one step that has been taken a little too late.

However, quite surprisingly President Trump has personally promoted efforts of Hock Tan (CEO Broadcom) to takeover the remaining business of NXP Semiconductors by Singapore based Broadcom.

So, what the Chinese have now accomplished through EMALS is understandable looking at all the past events and the planned and methodical manner in which they accomplished this task. Its a beginning of something very dangerous for the whole world. In its doing so the US military assets have been irreparably compromised, both present and future.

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About the Author

Saurabh Misra is a legal professional practising as an Advocate in the Supreme Court of India, New Delhi who occasionally writes on matters concerning the economy, defence and foreign policy.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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