Conceding not all Advanced Weapons Elevators will be operational before USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) leaves an extended post-shakedown availability, the Navy is pressing to fix as many of the systems as possible.
Currently, two of the carrier’s 11 Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWEs) are operational and earlier this year, the Navy extended by three months what was initially intended to be a 12-month post-shakedown availability (PSA). With little wiggle-room left in Ford’s schedule for the carrier and crew to prepare for a planned 2021 deployment, the Navy is now rushing more personnel – including outside experts from the commercial world – to try fixing at least some of the remaining inoperable elevators before the carrier leaves Newport News Shipbuilding in October.
“We have a full-court press on the Advanced Weapons Elevators,” said James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. “We’ve gathered a team of experts on the carrier right now, which will work with the shipbuilder to get Ford’s weapons elevators completed in the most efficient timeline possible – they will also recommend new design changes that can improve elevator activities for the rest of the Ford-class.”
Nearly three weeks ago, Ford’s crew started working with a team of experts culled from other government agencies, the shipbuilder and industry experts.
“This team of experts in electromagnetic systems, fabrication and production control, software, systems integration, and electrical engineering will focus on completing the production of the remaining elevators on CVN-78 and recommending design changes for future ships in the class,” Geurts said in the statement.
The Navy is not providing details about where the outside experts are from and how they’re compensated, Capt. Danny Hernandez, a Navy spokesman, told USNI News.
Ford’s designers used a new technology – electromagnetic, linear synchronous motors – to operate the AWEs. The intent is for the elevators to increase the speed of weapons delivery and the number of weapons delivered while reducing the number of personnel required to maintain the system. The Navy predicts the AWEs will increase Ford-class lethality by increasing the aircraft sortie-generation rate by 25 to 30 percent compared to older Nimitz-class carriers.
However, the Navy developed the new technology while also being installed. Software problems have kept the elevators from working correctly. The elevator problems are why Ford’s availability completion was pushed back to October, Geurts said in March during testimony before Congress.
Meanwhile, the Navy is constructing a land-based AWE test site at Naval Surface Warfare Center Division Philadelphia, due to be finished in 2020. A digital twin, located at the shipyard in Newport News, is expected to be completed this fall. Both systems will help the Navy troubleshoot problems. In the near term, what will likely happen is Ford’s crew will prepare for deployment with only some of AWEs working.
“The focus of effort between now and the fall is on the shipbuilder and fleet to prioritize the necessary work according to Navy operational needs for post-delivery test and trials. Details on the total number of AWEs at the end of PSA remains under review, as well as the overall completion of the elevators,” Hernandez told USNI News.