Home » Aviation » Navy Tackling Ford-Class Weapons Elevator Challenges; Decision on 2-Carrier Buy Still Pending

Navy Tackling Ford-Class Weapons Elevator Challenges; Decision on 2-Carrier Buy Still Pending

F/A-18F Pilot LCDR Jamie R. Struck the makes first carrier arrested landing using AAG system aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) off the Virginia coast. US Navy Photo

CAPITOL HILL – The Navy’s acquisition chief said the weapons elevators on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) will be built and installed by the time the ship comes out of its ongoing post-shakedown availability, but he may launch an independent review team to look at the long-term sustainability and reliability of the elevators.

The first-in-class Ford delivered without any of its weapons elevators and conducted its year-long shakedown testing at sea without them. Of the 11 total elevators, two have been produced – with one completing test and certification, and the second nearly done with its testing – Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts said Tuesday at a Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee hearing.

Geurts said the industry team was making progress to get all 11 elevators built and installed while Ford is still in PSA – a maintenance availability expected to last until the summer of 2019 – but some of the certification may not be completed before Ford heads back out to sea for more testing.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked about the elevators during the hearing and noted that, when faced with technical challenges on other new technologies in the Ford-class design, the Navy set up independent review teams to find and field solutions quickly.

“I am likely to do an independent review team, not on the immediate construction for CVN-78 but looking at the longer-term sustainability, resilience, reliability, to make sure we’re in a position to support those elevators to the long-term, that we’ve got all the training, all the reliability built into those,” Geurts told the senator.
“We’ve done some mini independent reviews for the 78 elevator design” and wouldn’t need to launch another full-scale review due to a team already tackling the elevator construction and installation for Ford.

Asked about his longer-term concerns on the elevators, Geurts told USNI News after the hearing that “it’s not with the immediate elevator design, it’s making sure we are positioned to support those elevators for the life of the class of ship. And so looking at making sure we’ve got all the right documentation, architecture, plans to deal with obsolescence of parts that might occur over time, reliability, things they may find once they get into the field. So really making sure we’ve got our long-term plan together. It’s not a lack of confidence in the immediate team to work the immediate design, it’s really – what I find these review teams are good at is looking longer term to make sure we’ve got the right strategic mindset to support that system.”

During the hearing, Geurts was also asked about other technologies that have caused headaches for the Ford-class program in recent years: the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), and the Dual-Band Radar (DBR).

“Of all of the technologies on the CVN-78, of which there were many we’ve proved out on this lead ship, the weapons elevator is the one that’s the last one for us to get tied up and work our way through. I think we’ve got a path there,” Geurts said.
“On both the EMALS program, both the launcher and the (AAG) arresting gear, we’ve had over 747 both catapults and traps on the CVN-78 during its 81 days at sea.. … 24,000 cycle events of that equipment on our shore-based test site there. So we’re feeling pretty confident on both those systems, both on catapults and the arresting gear. Dual-Band Radar, again making good progress there, don’t see any major technical issues with that system as well.”

Asked by subcommittee chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) if the Navy would be happy it invested in EMALS despite technical challenges during development, Geurts said yes.

“For the carriers of the future to be able to launch everything from fairly heavy fighter craft and some of the others to very light systems like the MQ-25 (unmanned tanker), you need these systems to have the range of capability you need to launch that different air wing of the future. And so while, yes, there’s certainly been technical challenges we’ve had to work through, it really opens up our ability to operate a wider variety of aircraft from the deck, both manned and unmanned, which I think is going to be critical to those carrier effective operations as we look to the future,” the secretary said.

Ongoing construction of the aircraft carrier John F Kennedy (CVN-79). Newport News Shipbuilding photo

As for the second-in-class carrier, future John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), Geurts said “we’re seeing fairly drastic reductions in labor hours. [Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding] has proven that once we get this design nailed down, their ability to be efficient in producing those – we’re seeing 16-percent less production labor hours on the second carrier in that class than the first one, and so as we get that design locked down, the efficiencies we expected to see are bearing out in the production phase.”

Geurts said he expects Newport News Shipbuilding will land the island on Kennedy in May 2019 and then launch the carrier from its drydock by the end of the calendar year.

As for future carriers, the Navy and Newport News are in talks about buying CVN-80 and 81 together as part of the first two-carrier buy since the 1980s. The Navy is interested in the idea and has said it could save $2.5 billion or more by purchasing the two carriers together. The House Armed Services Committee seemed to embrace the idea earlier this year, while SASC took more of a wait-and-see approach and wanted more information once Newport News submitted its final proposal.

The decision now rests at the Office of the Secretary of Defense level, and Geurts declined to speculate on how OSD felt about the proposal when talking to reporters after the hearing. He said the Navy’s job was to present its best options to the Pentagon and then execute whatever they decide on. Geurts said during the hearing that he expects a decision by the end of the calendar year, and that punting the decision much farther down the road would start eroding some of the potential for saving money on parts and labor.

However, he said that after months of talks with the shipbuilder, he’s more confident in the savings that can be achieved if the Navy acts now.

“If we go down that path, we will see at least that amount of savings – I would expect more.”

  • NavySubNuke

    Wish this article had a bit more information, maybe that is because I just haven’t been keeping track of the Ford’s elevators. But why aren’t the elevators actually ready? Was there a flaw in the design and they had to go back and redo it? Is there a problem with the manufacturing and they had to go back and remake them?
    Also, how late are the elevators – were they supposed to be installed and operational when Ford launched or has the plan been all along that they would be installed during PSA and so they are actually only a few months behind schedule?

    • Graeme Rymill

      “The Advanced Weapons Elevators, which are moved by magnets rather than cables, were supposed to be installed by the vessel’s original delivery date in May 2017. Instead, final installation was delayed by problems including four instances of unsafe ‘uncommanded movements’ since 2015, according to the Navy.” November 2 2018 Bloomberg article.

      Everything else I read says much the same vague thing.

      • NavySubNuke

        Good find – thanks!

        • Curtis Conway

          There was also an issue of substandard parts usage which was not caught until late. Now the new material/parts have passed their cert for usage, and each installation must go through the installation & test. The new Ford’s will not have this problem, and the MYP will ensure there existence/availability for the life of the program. Business must have some ‘predictable Known(s)’ in their future. Money doesn’t grow on tress except for the government, and we have been privatizing how long?

  • Kypros

    I wonder if being continuously exposed to all of these magnetic fields have any health risks for the crew?

    • Pat Patterson

      The ship’s structure is the shielding.

      • Refguy

        Not when your inside the structure

        • Pat Patterson

          Bulkheads, the decks, the overhead and other structures around the elevators at each level from the magazines to the flight deck are all shielding as is equipment and other structures in adjacent areas. The magnetic fields generated are not ionizing radiation.

          • Refguy

            Depends on: are you in the same compartment as the equipment? are there penetrations in the deck/overhead/bulkhead between you and the equipment? There used to be a lot of EMI because of inadequate/discontinuous shielding. Agreed that it’s not ionizing radiation and probably less hazardous than an MRI, but the question shouldn’t have been dismissed “because the ship is a metal box.” Were any of the uncommanded movements EMI-related?

          • Pat Patterson

            Can’t really tell at this point w/o more info. That’s why we have engineers and industrial hygienists.

          • Centaurus

            When sailors start falling over from induced brain damage caused by the system, there will be a Navy Commission sent to study it in a few months. Meanwhile, bring on the navy recruits…la la la la la…

          • Pat Patterson

            Not going to happen!

          • Centaurus

            Curious… how can you know ? Sailors falling ? Navy Commission forming ?
            Physically impossible ? Systems are designed by people. We will only know if the truth gets out, and the truth within the Navy has a curious path to the surface.

    • Epictetus

      Magnetic fields only create a force on moving charged particles or cause an induced electric field when the magnitude of the magnetic field changes, neither of which exists in any significant quantity in the human body. However, the bigger concern (in my opinion) is the induced electric fields, and therefore induced currents, in conductors (i.e., nearly everything on a CVN) in the vicinity of the magnetic fields generated by the catapult. No doubt the designers took this into account, but when well-intended Sailor-alts (e.g., welded metal shelving, wiring, etc.) are installed, a nasty current path could be created. Inducted Current ~ dB/dt and the dB is really, really big for a magnetic field large enough to launch aircraft.

      • SDW

        Maybe they are relying on the concurrent development of a flux capacitor. Also, don’t forget about all the ATM cards that will be made useless.

        (couldn’t help it)

  • Chesapeakeguy

    I sure hope the toilets work! Are they ‘new tech’ as well?

    • RDF


      • Centaurus

        Perhaps “they” can keep getting the costs down in this endless buy of nuke powered air-bases, buy spitting them out in a 3-D printer ? The prez thinks that catapults should be electronic rather than steamonic. Doe anything get the price of nuke flattops down ??? I’m gonna go smoke a ciggy…..

        • RDF

          Not good for you. The nuke carriers i mean.

    • Hugh

      With all that electricity, and computers, any breach letting in salt water and……..!

    • Pat Patterson

      No, they are standard ones that have been around for years.

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        Actually they are in fact new- they decided to make it “gender neutral” and not install urinals apparently to not offend women or people who identify with taking leaks not standing up. I’m serious.

        • Beomoose

          It’s not about offense, it’s about flexibility. Asking women to use urinals is a bit silly, so they’re taking up space and being less useful than normal toilets. Every can on the CVN can be used by anyone so there’s no limit on which heads can be assigned to which gender, and the spares are universal.That’s efficiency.

          I realize some men are so manly they have to have a urinal or they get confused about what they’re going to do, but the Navy is pretty good at training people.

          • Ser Arthur Dayne

            I pray that no snowflakes were harmed in the creation of your post.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            It actually makes sense in not building in standard men’s ‘urinals’. The universal heads take up more space because everything involves private stalls, but the men and women have their own designated heads. By making them universal, if the ship has any reason to change the designations, they don’t really have to do anything. Also, it is a distinct possibility that the number of crew members who are female will increase as time goes by, so no further modifications will have to take place. And so far, the ship and Navy is NOT making them all available for anyone to use, there are ‘Men’s’ heads and ‘Women’s’.!

          • Ed L

            I remember the trough urinals 6 feet long. No waiting in line for a standup

          • Beomoose

            We’re on the same page. By “can be used by anyone” I didn’t mean there were unisex heads, but rather any head can be assigned as the needs of the crew require, rather than having to limit the crew because there’s an overcapacity of one type and under-capacity of another.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            Understood. I just echoed what you had said.

          • SDW

            I would have suggested that the plumbing be designed to quickly swap out the fixtures and install one or the other. Then I recognized that it would sound so reminiscent of the modular swaps planned for the LCS and we all know how well that has worked out.

    • muzzleloader

      Actually the new tech toilets made thier debut on the HW Bush CVN-77. It is a vacuum system.
      A CPO friend of mine was on the maiden deployment. The waste plumbing lines were clogging because female sailors were flushing their you know what’s.
      And because it is a vacuum system 70% of the ships heads were down.
      It took a couple of days to fix the problem, and in the interim work parties were throwing buckets of you know what overboard.
      True story. Thankfully the bugs have been worked out of the system.
      ( I think)

      • Chesapeakeguy

        The Bush is what I was referencing and having fun with.

    • Ron8200

      The Ford class does not have urinals. I can’t imagine why except political correctness.

      • Chesapeakeguy

        The reasons have been explained in several posts above. I think the logic behind the decision is sound.

  • Pat Patterson

    How can you not have simple weapons elevators installed and functional? What is so special about them?

  • Curtis Conway

    The technical issues have been solved. Now it is just a matter of time before all the weapons elevators are retrofitted’re-installed. The Advanced Arresting System is performing well, and the EMALS is performing in accordance to specifications. Improvements will continue to be made as well. A Multi-Year Program authorization to help hold down cost should be forthcoming from Congress in this budget cycle.

    Additionally, the extended development and test periods of multiple items in DoD procurement have exacerbated supplier issues. The MYP is required to allay any fears that the program would be cancelled and the vendors go out of business. A vendor in the CH-53K King Stallion Program went out of business waiting for the multi-year delayed production announcement. We don’t want to see this in other areas, particularly with the current robust economic development environment. However, this is not to say that competition should be abandon for the expediency of sole source development, test and production. The manufacturing base must be preserved. Quality & efficiency needs to be squeezed out of every new program effort, just the target goal cannot be too high up front.

    The ITEP Program is a case in point where both manufacturers with their competing concepts have their peculiar advantages that make that engine development path, and the risks associated with that path (and engine configuration) unique, and suited for specific tasks of varying risks.

    • Michael Hoskins, Privileged

      OK, good. Questions. What happens when bits and bytes dump? Is there a ‘Manual’ mode? Can things be run like DDS systems off a laptop plugged into a local port.?

      • Curtis Conway

        Don’t know if local control (with supply of power) is how it works or not. My biggest worry is EMALS casualties and having to take one off-line for maintenance/repair (safely). Don’t see any press on this issue!

        • Centaurus

          We see no press on the issue. And when the link to Google poots away, what will the net hogs doo-my !?

  • Pat Patterson

    Wish there was more design info out there on the elevators to get a better understanding of the issue. Not an engineer so can’t visualize the mechanics.

  • Pat Patterson

    That’s true. Probably the least challenging compared to EMALS and AAG.

  • Rob C.

    I guess they should have had more time experimenting with these new new design elevators and stuck with cable driven ones. Room savings be damned, unless it proven works on lesser design like ammo ship.