A top Navy official Tuesday said the Navy plans to build a new land-based test site for the Gerald R. Ford-class advanced weapons elevator (AWE) for future training, maintenance, and software testing.

Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), said that after dealing with AWE installation delays on the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), in hindsight, the Navy should have built a land-based test facility for the elevators as it did for the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS), Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), and dual-band radar.

Personnel go over safety procedures for the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator (AWE) with sailors from USS Gerald R. Ford's (CVN 78) weapons department in Newport News, Va. in January. This was the first of 11 elevators delivered to the ship. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
Personnel go over safety procedures for the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator (AWE) with sailors from USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) weapons department in Newport News, Va. in January. This was the first of 11 elevators delivered to the ship. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Each new carrier will have 11 AWEs, which shipbuilder and elevator-builder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] says are one of the most advanced technologies being incorporated into the vessels.

On Tuesday, Moore told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast that the Navy plans to build a test site for the elevators in Philadelphia, Pa., after it buys the original AWE prototype.

Last month, Jennifer Boykin, president of HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), said it expects to turn over four upper stage elevators to the Navy by the time the ship finished its post-shakedown availability (PSA). Then, the remaining systems will be going through the certification process by the time CVN-78 reaches its sail away date (Defense Daily, Feb. 1)

The Navy has used the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., to test the General Atomics-built [GA] AAG and EMALS hundreds of times to work out the problems in a new system. In October, the Navy finished AAG performance testing for the C-2A Greyhound, E-2C+ Hawkeye, and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Navy aircraft (Defense Daily, Oct. 2, 2018).

In 2017, the EMALS team validated a software fix to ensure safe launches following 71 EMALS launches to confirm the system could launch heavily loaded F/A-18E/F aircraft (Defense Daily, June 27, 2017).

“We’re going to take the original prototype and purchase it and send it to Philly and put it together so we’ll be able to test it out,” Moore added.

“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.”

In a perfect world “we would have built this back in probably 2008 and not today,” Moore added.

He said the new facility will be useful, even after the first Ford-class carrier is built. It will test and train crews and mechanics as well as try out new software.

Moore pointed out these carriers are planned to operate until 2110 “so these advanced weapons elevators are going to be around for quite some time. So it would behoove us to have a place that we can go…test new things out, do maintenance, train people before they actually go to the ship.”

Moore said NAVSEA decided to build the test site around the end of his tenure at program Executive Office-Aircraft Carriers in 2016, but did not know the current schedule.

Separately, Moore also explained the elevator delays have been largely due to software and control system issues. Now that the first elevator has been turned over to the Navy, the company is adding those updates to the next 10 elevators.

The Navy still plans for the elevators to be delivered or almost ready on the Ford by the time the ship completes its PSA this summer.

“Most of the challenges…were really in the software and the control systems. So as we round out those bugs on the first – the upper stage weapons elevator that we’ve turned over to them, we’re learning and we’re rolling those lessons immediately into the other ones as we go,” the head of NAVSEA said.

The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) conducts post-delivery testing and trial operations in June 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Moore elaborated that while the elevator rides on an electric rail it is a relatively complex system and “there are control systems that keep the platform level, there are control systems that determine when various doors open, there are control systems that determine when the thing stops. There are control systems in there designed for the safety of the crew.”

The last problems solved “fell under those broad categories.” After the Navy finished mechanical clearances and alignments, most problems were software-related, the NAVSEA commander said.

The elevators have been one of the more noticeable delays with the carrier. Last month, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said he promised President Trump that if the weapons elevators are not ready by the summer when the ship finishes the PSA “you can fire me” (Defense Daily, Jan. 8).