The Navy will procure a new ship-representative advanced weapons elevator (AWE) for the land-based test site for Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier elevators while the Ford has accepted its second elevator.
Last Month, Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), told reporters the Navy decided to build a test site for the AWEs in Philadelphia several years ago and would start once it buys the original AWE prototype (Defense Daily, Feb. 20).
NAVSEA spokesperson Bill Couch told Defense Daily in an email that the Navy’s original plan did entail procuring the prototype, but that has “recently changed” since it was first built over 10 years ago with many obsolete components.
“To optimize schedule and minimize cost, the Navy will procure a shipboard representative of the CVN 78 AWE configuration for installation in the LBETS [land-based engineering test site], with the integration of a representative quantity and type of electromechanical actuators,” Couch said in a statement.
The Navy estimates the new test elevator will cost $6 million-$7 million.
Couch also explained the decision to build the LBETS was made in FY 2015 when Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division, “planned for a military construction effort to accommodate Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWE) and similar elevator technologies in FY 2015.”
Design work for the site started in February 2016.
Construction of the LBETS foundation and platform is “near completion.” Once the elevator and components are installed, initial light-off for the LBETS is planned to start by October 2020, Couch said.
This process also includes a phased installation to field additional capabilities.
The Navy will use the test site to test and train crews and mechanics as well as try new software. This is a useful site to have because the Ford-class carriers are planned to operate past 2110, Moore said.
Each new Ford-class carrier will have 11 AWEs built by shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII].
The AWEs have been one of the several delayed new systems on the new class of carriers.
In January, President of HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding Jennifer Boykin told reporters the company expects to turn over four upper stage elevators by the time the Ford finishes its current post-shakedown availability. By then, the company had turned over the first elevator, AWE Upper Stage #1, while it was finishing certification of the second AWE (Defense Daily, Feb. 1).
HII plans to have the remaining elevators be going through the certification process by the time CVN-78 reaches its sail away date
Last month, Moore said the elevator delays are largely due to software and control system issues. He also admitted it would have been better to have the test site before fully installing them on CVN-78.
“If that had been the case, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I’m convinced of that,” Moore said.
He added that in a perfect world, “we would have built this back in probably 2008 and not today.”
Separately, on Wednesday the Navy said HII turned over the second CVN-78 elevator, AWE Upper Stage #3, on Feb. 14. This was almost a month after accepting the first elevator.
The Navy said Upper Stage #3 was turned over following testing and certification by HII engineers.
Having two AWEs allows the Ford sailors to get better used to the systems during the PSA, the Ford’s weapons officer said.
“This acceptance gives us the opportunity to have that ‘run time’ on the physical aspects of the elevator, but also in evaluating the technical manuals, and learning the maintenance required to keep them operational,” Cmdr. Joe Thompson said in a statement.
Thompson added sailors will be able to apply lessons learned from the first elevator on to the second one. “This is going to allow us to progress faster. As we get smarter on one, we move on to the next and apply the lessons learned not only with regard to elevator operation, but also in the testing and certification, and maintenance processes.”
AWE Upper Stage #3 is located on the ship’s aft weapons handling area while Upper Stage #1 is in the forward weapons handling area.
“This is a huge step for us. With one forward, and now one aft – this brings us one step closer to being a truly lethal Weapons Department,” Thompson said.
The Navy explained since the Ford-class carriers have dedicated weapons handling areas between the hangar bay and flight deck removes the need for the Nimitz-class ship’s “bomb farm.”
The Navy said Upper Stage #3 was accepted on an accelerated pace “due to a merging of the test programs between NNS and the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), which removed redundant steps and moved certification up by 10 days.”
The team also identified other areas where redundancy can be removed to make the elevator acceptance timelines more efficient.
“The combined efforts of NNS and NSWC to remove inefficiencies in the test program highlights how well our teams are working together,” Ford Commanding Officer, Capt. J.J. Cummings, said in a statement.
“These are the most technologically unique elevators in the world, and we are going to need to find innovative methods to get the remaining nine elevators delivered this year,” he added.