More than three years after the newest -- and most expensive -- aircraft carrier was supposed to be delivered to the U.S. Navy with 11 working weapons elevators, it has crossed the halfway point in getting the new systems up and running.
The sixth advanced weapons elevator on the supercarrier Gerald R. Ford was certified on Wednesday. Officials say the remaining five elevators, which carry ordnance up to the flight deck where it's loaded onto aircraft, will be certified by next summer.
The Ford's lower-stage elevator, which carries munitions from the ship's forward magazine to the flight deck, was the one certified this week, Naval Sea Systems Command announced on Thursday. It follows the April certification of the carrier's fifth weapons elevator -- a lower-stage one that carries bombs from the aft magazine deep in the ship up to the flight deck.
Having forward and aft lower-stage elevators lifting weapons up to the flight deck is an important milestone, the command's announcement states.
"[The lower-stage elevators] will now operate in tandem, providing a dramatic capability improvement as we proceed toward full combat system certification aboard Ford," Rear Adm. James Downey, program executive officer for Aircraft Carriers, said.
The Ford's elevator systems, which move using high-powered magnets instead of cables, have been plagued by problems. All 11 were supposed to be in working order when the ship was delivered to the Navy in May 2017. None were working right at the time.
The elevators haven't been the only system with mechanical problems on the $13 billion aircraft carrier. The new high-tech Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, known as EMALS, broke in June during the Ford's sea trials. The ship has also had trouble with a new dual-band radar system.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told lawmakers last year that the decision to install all the new technologies at once on a single carrier without extensive testing on land was "a failure of the Navy."
The new advanced weapons elevators give the Ford the ability to move ordnance with a speed and agility that has never been seen before on any warship, Downey said. Next the Ford's crew will operate the newly certified elevator during the carrier's next underway period to "exercise the system in an at-sea environment, train crewmembers, and validate operational and maintenance procedures," according to NAVSEA.
James Geurts, assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition, last month credited the shipbuilders on the Ford during the at-sea periods with helping get the elevators working.
When the ship was conducting sea trials with its biggest carrier air wing embark to date, Geurts said the crew moved about 35,000 pounds of bombs up to the flight deck using the lower-stage elevator for the aft magazine.
"Meanwhile," he added, "we had dedicated shipyard workers working on elevators, and we're progressing on or ahead of plan."