When USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) leaves Newport News Shipbuilding in mid-October, only some of its Advanced Weapons Elevators will be usable as the Navy continues to struggle in making the ship deployable, Navy acquisition chief James Geurts said Wednesday.
The Ford will deliver back to the Navy with an unspecified number of the Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWEs) operational when it leaves its post-shakedown availability (PSA). The Navy is also working to correct a propulsion problem discovered during sea trials, which a year ago caused Ford to return to port ahead of its scheduled PSA.
“We are working right now with the fleet on what elevators do we need to have complete so they can exercise all the function in October, and for any of that work that isn’t done, how we’re going to feather that work in over time,” Geurts said during a media briefing Wednesday.
Geurts was at Newport News Shipbuilding to watch the workers at the yard lower the island onto the deck of second-in-class John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), which is slated for a christening later this year. Ford’s PSA is occurring at the Newport News yard near Kennedy’s construction site.
The elevators aboard Ford are the last elements requiring work, Geurts said. Two of the 11 elevators are completed, and work on the remaining nine continues. Ford will leave Newport News in October, Geurts said, explaining its future readiness depends on this departure date.
“We’ve got to train crews and get crews certified, wring out the rest of the ship, and then take all those lessons learned and … pour them into the rest of this design” for the rest of the Ford class, Geurts said. “So our strategy of that lead ship prove out all the technologies and then rapidly reduce the time and cost and complexity to get them on follow-on ships.”
Ford is slated for a 2021 deployment. The original timeline included completing the PSA this summer and then spending the rest of 2019 and 2020 getting the crew ready to deploy.
However, during testimony before Congress in March, Geurts announced Ford’s availability completion date was being pushed back to October because of the elevator problems, the propulsion system problem and the overall workload. What was a 12-month PSA is now stretching to 15 months. Now the Navy has a seemingly open-ended timeline to fix Ford’s AWEs.
The AWEs are an integral part of making the Ford-class carriers more lethal by increasing the aircraft sortie-generation rate by 25 to 30 percent compared to the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. Software problems with the elevators on Ford have kept them from working correctly.
The Navy has been far less vocal in detailing the problem with Ford’s propulsion, which involves the ship’s main turbine generators that are driven by the steam produced by Ford’s two nuclear reactors. The reactors are operating as expected. However, the turbines need unanticipated and extensive overhauls, sources familiar with the repairs told USNI News.
“All three of those causal factors – making the adjustments to the nuclear power plant that we noted during sea trials, fitting in all of the post-shakedown availability workload and finishing up the elevators – they’re all trending about the same time,” Geurts said during the March testimony. “So, October right now is our best estimate. The fleet has been notified of that. They’re working that into their train-up cycle afterward.”