Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer on Tuesday said he recently assured President Trump the weapons elevators on the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) will be ready by the summer when the ship completes its year-long post-shakedown availability (PSA) or he can be fired.

Spencer made the remarks at a Center for a New American Security (CNAS) event.

Richard V. Spencer, Secretary of the Navy. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

CVN-78 started a year-long PSA in July to install remaining combat systems, finish deferred work, and correct discrepancies identified during sea trials and the ship’s shakedown. The work is being done at shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries’ [HII] Newport News Shipbuilding.

At the time the Navy said the largest PSA activities will be finishing fixing the advanced weapons elevator and upgrading the Advanced Arresting Gear (Defense Daily, July 16).

The Navy also had to ask Congress’ permission to move millions of dollars to the new carrier to correct deficiencies, including $12.7 million for re-baselining the Advanced Weapons Elevator “to address continuing technical deficiencies” (Defense Daily, July 19).

The Ford was delivered to the Navy in May 2017 and then commissioned into the fleet without functional weapons elevators (Defense Daily, June 1, 2017).

At the event on Tuesday, Spencer said he spoke with Trump about the elevators at the December Army-Navy football game.

“I asked him to stick his hand out. He stuck his hand out. I said, let’s do this like corporate America. I shook his hand and said the elevators will be ready to go when she [CVN-78] pulls out or you can fire me,” Spencer said.

The secretary emphasized someone has to take responsibility over the weapons elevator issues.

“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,” he added.

In June, a Government Accountability Orffice (GAO) report noted the Ford is a prime example of common delays in shipbuilding. The Navy took delivery of the carrier two years late and $2 billion over the initial budget, with its schedule slipping by 25 months (Defense Daily, June 12).

In November, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN-RDA) James Geurts told a Senate panel that of the 11 elevators the Navy will test and certify on the CVN-78, one is through tests and evaluation and the second was 94 percent through testing.

Geurts added that construction and installation of the elevators would be finished by the end of the PSA, although certification would continue after the ship leaves the shipyard (Defense Daily, Nov. 27).

The elevators have been a sore point for the Navy for years.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 launches from the flight deck of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) for the first time using the EMALS launcher following a first arrested landing using the AAG. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cathrine Campbell/Released.

Back in Summer 2016 when the Navy announced Ford delivery was being delayed two months, the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) criticized the ship’s slow progress. McCain said the postponement demonstrated key systems had still not demonstrated expected performance including that the “advanced weapons elevators cannot lift munitions.”

“Even if everything goes according to the Navy’s plan, CVN-78 will be delivered with multiple systems unproven,” McCain said (Defense Daily, July 12, 2016).

Spencer said they also talked about the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which the president has been skeptical of since early in the administration. EMALS uses electricity from shipboard power and a series of magnets embedded along a track to propel the catapult with an aircraft to the bow of the carrier and launch the aircraft.

In a May 2017 Time magazine interview, Trump said the Navy should replace EMALS with the outdated steam-powered catapults because it is very complicated, costs millions of dollars more “and it’s no good” (Defense Daily, May 11, 2017).

The administration made no changes to using EMALS.

“He said, should we go back to steam? I said, well Mr. President, really look at what we’re looking at. EMALS, we got the bugs out. But what you really have to understand is the aperture of EMALS,” Spencer said at CNAS.

“It can launch a very light piece of aviation gear, and right behind it we can launch the heaviest piece of gear we have. Steam can’t do that. And by the way, parts, manpower, space, it’s all to our advantage.”