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Weapons elevators on USS Gerald R Ford carrier won’t work anytime soon

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The weapons elevators on the USS Gerald R. Ford supercarrier aren’t expected to be fully operational anytime soon, not even when the ship leaves the shipyard and returns to the fleet later this year.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition James Geurts said Wednesday that only some of the 11 Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWEs) on the Ford will be operational when the ship completes its post-shakedown availability (PSA) maintenance prior to returning to the fleet, USNI News reported. Maintenance began last summer after the Ford returned to port early due to a number of different problems.

The weapons elevators move bombs and missiles from armored magazines to the flight deck, where crewmen load them onto jets. The elevators are critical to increasing the aircraft sortie rate, whose higher rates make the Ford-class more capable than the Nimitz-class it’s replacing. It’s for these reasons that Navy secretary told President Donald Trump that “you can fire me” if the elevators weren’t working by the end of the maintaince.

Now, the Navy appears to be acknowledging just that.

Guerts “is feeling good about [the] new technology on Ford with the exception of the remaining Advanced Weapons Elevators that require further production and testing following the conclusion of [the] PSA,” Capt. Daniel Hernandez, a spokesman for the Navy acquisitions chief, told BI in an emailed statement.

USS Gerald R. Ford underway on its own power for the first time in Newport News, Virginia, April 8, 2017.
US Department of Defense

The PSA at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia was initially supposed to conclude in July, but problems with the ship’s propulsion system, the elevators, and a few other aspects of the ship led to delays. While most of these problems are expected to be resolved before the carrier leaves the shipyard at the end of the PSA, the weapons elevators will likely continue to be a demanding additional attention.

“The elevators are going to require more work after the PSA,” a Navy official told Business Insider, clarifying that it’s the integration process that is proving to be the biggest obstacle. “The elevators are the long pole in the tent.”

Right now, only two of the 11 advanced weapons elevators are complete. It is unclear how many will be complete by the end of the PSA, but the odds of all of them being available are low. And there does not currently appear to be a timetable for completion. These aspects of the program are currently under review.

The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) underway on its own power for the first time.
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ridge Leoni

“Due to the concurrent nature of AWE development and construction, the shipboard AWEs have been test beds for discovering many of the remaining developmental issues that have delayed the scheduled turnover to the crew,” Hernandez told BI. “These issues have included physical adjustments and software refinement that are required to make AWE weapons movement sustainable and reliable.”

Not only does this issue matter as developmental setbacks continue to drive up costs on a $13 billion aircraft carrier already well over budget, but Navy Secretary Richard Spencer bet his job on these systems in a meeting with Trump at the Army-Navy football game in December.

“The elevators will be ready to go when she pulls out or you can fire me,” Spencer recalled telling the president while speaking at the Center for a New American Security in January. He told the audience of his promise to the president that the elevators would be working by the end of the PSA.

“We’re going to get it done. I know I’m going to get it done. I haven’t been fired yet by anyone; being fired by the president really isn’t on the top of my list.”

Read more: The Navy secretary made Trump a high-stakes promise: A major problem with the Navy’s new carrier would be fixed ‘or you can fire me’

The secretary’s office did not provide any additional clarity on what steps he or the Navy is taking to ensure that weapons elevators are back on track.

“Secretary Spencer is aware of the status of the advanced weapons elevators,” a spokesman for the secretary told Business Insider. “He remains committed to ensuring the Navy and nation have a fully operational USS Gerald R. Ford and is working with the shipbuilder to get the ship at sea where it belongs.”

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