The most expensive warship of all time, US Navy’s Gerald R. Ford, was delivered without elevators needed to lift bombs from below deck magazines to load on fighter jets, among other problems.
The $13 billion aircraft carrier, in addition to having problems with the 11 elevators for the ship, built by Huntingon Ingalls Industries Inc., also has issues with two other core systems. The warship’s electromagnetic system to launch planes and the arresting gear to catch them when they land are also heavily flawed.
The Advanced Weapons Elevators, which are moved by magnets rather than cables, were supposed to be installed by the vessel’s original delivery date in May 2017. The final installation, though, was delayed due to problems, including four instances of unsafe “uncommanded movements” ever since 2015, according to the Navy, cited by Bloomberg.
In August, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told reporters that progress was being made on the problems with the two other core systems, however the elevators were their “Achilles heel.”
Shelby Oakley, a director with the U.S. Government Accountability Office who monitors Navy shipbuilding said that the elevator system is “just another example of the Navy pushing technology risk into design and construction — without fully demonstrating it.”
These problems also raise questions regarding the Navy’s intention of bundling the third and fourth carriers in the $58 billion Ford class into one contract. This is part of the US Navy’s push to increase its 284-ship fleet to 355 by the mid-2030s.
The Navy was given permission by the Congress to unite the two warships into one contract in this year’s defense spending and policy bills despite the unresolved technical issues and the lack of a Navy estimate so far of how much money it would save the service. As of November 6th, Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan continues to review the contracting plan.
The Navy claims that the Gerald R. Ford will be fully combat-capable by July 2019, including elevators. July 2019 is also the end of its current 12-month pier-side shakedown period in Virginia.
In a July 6th memo to Pentagon acquisition head Ellen Lord, Navy weapons buyer James Geurts cited what he called “considerable progress” on the Ford, including on the elevators.
Earlier, in May, the Navy requested a further increase of the Ford’s cost cap by $120 million, in part to fix elevator issues “to preclude any effect on the safety of the ship and personnel.”
Bloomberg cited Beci Brenton, a spokeswoman for Newport News, Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls, who said “all the elevators are installed.” She said the weapons elevator is among “the most advanced technologies being incorporated into” the carrier and “its completion has been delayed due to a number of first-in-class issues,” Brenton said.
“We are committed to working through the remaining technical challenges,” she claimed.
A spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command, William Couch said that the elevators are “in varying levels of construction and testing.”
According to him all 11 “should have been completed and delivered with the ship delivery.”
The elevators were advertised as the “technology of tomorrow” as far back as in 2010.
“In the not-too-distant future the Advanced Weapons Elevator will be lifting bombs to the flight deck of a new aircraft carrier,” the narrator said. “If it survives the rigors of Navy life, someday we might all be passengers on elevators powered like this one.”
Doug Ridenour, president of Federal Equipment Co., a subcontractor of Huntington Ingalls, said that the elevator’s key technologies “have been consistently demonstrated for years” in a test unit in the company’s plant and that all software or programming-related issues have been solved.
But “shipboard integration involves many other technology insertions not controlled by” his company, he said.
It appears that the most expensive warship of all time shares several characteristics of the most expensive defense project – the F-35 fighter jet. Both sophisticated technologies appear to be plagued by numerous problems and have been advertised as “combat-ready” much earlier than they should have been. They also share the common trait of constantly requiring more funding and becoming even more expensive.