USS Gerald Ford Finally Gets All Its Advanced Weapons Elevators Installed

The electromagnetic contraption is six years late and $2.8 billion over the budget.
Ameya Paleja

Last week the installation of the 11th and final Advanced Weapons Elevator (AWE) was completed on board the USS Gerald Ford. The AWE is among the advanced technologies that are being used to increase the agility of the aircraft carrier, even as it works with fewer sailors, the U.S. Navy said in a press release

Earlier this year, we had reported that the first of its class, Gerald Ford had entered its Planned Incremental Availability (PIA) and boasts the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) instead of a steam catapult to launch fighter aircraft. The EMALS was plagued with its own issues but wasn't the only electromagnetic system on the ship that was affected. In January of 2019, the aircraft carrier was handed over to the Navy even as work on the AWE remained incomplete. 

Weapons elevators are responsible for moving munitions from the deep storage of the ship directly to the flight deck. This allows for rapid arming of the fighter jets by sailors on the carrier. According to a Defense News report, USS Gerald Ford was designed to use electromagnetic motors for the weapons elevators, instead of the conventionally used hydraulics systems and each of the 11 elevators had to be designed and programmed individually. 

While the Navy soon realized the design flaw, it persisted with it since it was one of the 23 such pieces of tech that would enable the carrier to operate with a smaller-sized crew. Defense News also reported that the Navy was aiming to complete the installation of the AWE by 2020 prior to the full ship shock trials (FSST) that were completed in August this year. However, the work extended well beyond that timeline, even as the aircraft carrier entered its PIA, and was completed last week, according to the Navy's press release.

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"The Ford should have been delivered in September 2015 at a cost of $10.5 billion," Sen. Jim Inhofe told Defense News in a statement. "What actually happened is ship construction was completed six years late and $2.8 billion over budget. The burden of this six-year delay has been borne by the other 10 aircraft carriers in our fleet deploying longer and more often." 

To mitigate the delay caused by the elevator installation, the Navy and its contractors advanced work such as installing computers and combat systems, usually scheduled in the last phases of ship construction, Defense News reported. 

“The end game is always operational readiness,” said Rear Adm. James P. Downey, Program Executive Officer for Aircraft Carriers, “With the completion of this final AWE, we now have the entire system to operate and train with. Ford is on track to complete this PIA on schedule, conduct sea trials, and move on to follow on tasking.”

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