USS Ford's First Lower-Stage Elevator Nears Operation
The carrier USS Gerald R. Ford’s advanced weapons elevators have moved forward towards operational capability with the first tests of the first lower stage weapons elevator.
The lower stage elevators carry munitions from the magazine up to the hangar level. None have functioned to date, and without them, the $13 billion USS Ford cannot generate sustained fighter sorties.
Unlike the weapons elevators aboard previous generations of American carriers, Ford's are electromagnetically powered, and the technology behind them was not developed to maturity before installation. The resulting delays are believed to have contributed to the dismissal of former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. NNS finally delivered four upper stage elevators to the Ford last year, and the Navy has run them up and down for about 7,000 cycles, with few issues reported.
Lower Stage Weapons Elevator #5 will serve as a testbed for the remaining seven elevators (no shoreside testbed system was built before Ford's construction). The Navy says that the lower stage elevators have "significant design complexities" which make them different from the upper stage elevators.
The Navy says that it is learning the best process for testing the new elevators. The new combined test team and the phased approach are a "lesson learned" from the upper-stage elevators and will reduce time to certification.
“We’ve come a long way with our integration and efficiency,” said Jake Moore, NSWCPD onsite assessor and software lead. “There’s a fluid team dynamic and solid process.”
The joint industry-Navy team is working around the clock to make Ford's elevators run. During the second phase, engineers will conduct a series of inspections to "verify software and complete co-checks in order to complete System Operability Testing 3 prior to phase 3 regression testing and subsequent certification" by Naval Sea Systems Command.
“NNS is working as hard as they can to deliver the remaining elevators in the most efficient timeline possible,” said Ford’s CO, Capt. John J. Cummings. “I am confident NNS has worked through former technology concerns and will deliver the lower stage elevators as soon as possible.”