The Navy’s top acquisition official on Wednesday confirmed not all of the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWEs) will be complete and certified by the time the ship finishes its post-shakedown availability (PSA) and sails away in October.
James Geurts, assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, told reporters Wednesday the Navy and shipbuilder are working through fleet operational needs to prioritize which of the remaining nine Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWEs) should be completed by its October sail-away date so the ship can properly function.
The Ford-class carrier features 11 new AWEs and the lead ship has thus far accepted two. Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] is working on the remaining systems but not all of them will be ready by the time CVN-78 finishes PSA in October.
“We’re working with the fleet on what are the ones that are most important for them to have in the fleet, so when we go out and sail in October they can do all the functions of the ship and then staging the rest of the work after that,” Guerts told reporter reporters following a ceremony marking the landing of the island on to the deck of the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) at the HII shipyard.
Geurts said the Navy is still working through the details of how to “feather” in the remaining AWE work past October.
In March, Geurts told a Congressional panel Ford’s PSA was delayed from July to October due to the AWEs as well as a propulsion system problem and overall workload (Defense Daily, March 27).
Earlier this year, Jennifer Boykin, president of HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding, said the company expects to turn over four upper stage elevators to the Navy by the time the Ford finishes its PSA. Then another four or five lower stage elevators would be in some stage of the certification process by the time the ship reaches its sail away date (Defense Daily, Feb. 1).
Navy spokesperson Capt. Danny Hernandez told Defense Daily the focus of effort through the fall is on the fleet and HII “to prioritize the necessary work required so the carrier can functionally operate the existing schedule without impact.”
Geurts confirmed the Navy’s plan is to get the Ford out of the shipyard by mid-October.
He said this was “very important because we’ve got to train crews and get the crews certified, wring out the rest of the ship, and then take all those lessons learned and after seeing, pour them into this design. 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. That’s the stretch that we’re executing.”
Geurts said the currently operational AWEs are going through many cycles, showing they are robust.
Hernandez underscored the Navy is also building a land-based test site for the AWEs at Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia and has contracted for production, test, and delivery of system components to be finished in 2020.
In February, Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, told reporters about Navy plans to build this test site. He said in a perfect world they would have built it in 2008 and “we would have been better, frankly, to have a land-based test site for the weapons elevators on Ford. If that had been the case we wouldn’t be where we are today, I’m convinced of that” (Defense Daily, Feb. 20).
Hernandez also noted the Navy and shipbuilder are also finishing a full digital twin co-located at the HII Newport News shipyard facility that is due to be completed this fall.
“Both systems will allow the Navy and shipbuilder to mature the technology and aid in trouble shooting,” he said.