USN Preps To Move Weapons On Ford

USS Gerald R. Ford.
Credit: U.S. Navy

Despite the spread of the novel coronavirus, the U.S. Navy is preparing to embark Carrier Strike Group 12 and Carrier Air Wing 8 for cyclic flight operations in May that include the first-ever movement of weapons on the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).

The service is slowly making progress installing one of the Ford’s new technologies, the advanced weapons elevators (AWE), designed to efficiently move ordnance to the flight deck. The new design promises a higher sortie rate for the aircraft carrier class compared to the Nimitz.

On April 20, the lower stage five AWE was finally certified. The team is on track to complete the installation of all the AWEs on the Ford before full ship shock trials kick off in fiscal 2021, Rear Adm. James Downey, program executive officer for carriers, told reporters April 22. Five out of the 11 AWEs are up and running. In January, the service predicted the fifth AWE would be certified in March. The other operationally certified elevators are the three upper-stage elevators and one utility elevator that is also used for medical evacuations.

The AWEs use an electromechanical system that operates 50% faster than hydraulic elevators used on the Nimitz-class. The Ford, which has two more elevators than legacy carriers, can carry more than double the capacity of weapons on its elevators—24,000 lb. (11,000 kg) compared to 10,500 lb. Ford’s design reduces the crew’s movement of weapons throughout the decks horizontally to less than 400 ft., where on the Nimitz it is 1,500 ft., Downey said.

The main challenge with the Ford’s AWEs is that all the doors are custom sized to maximize space. To ensure efficiency on future ships, the shipbuilder has developed AWE specialists who will work on all future Ford-class carriers. The Navy is committed to purchasing four of the new carriers, but the service may decide to buy more.

While the Ford was underway the world was battling COVID-19, but the pandemic had not spread to the U.S. when the ship left port. Once the aircraft carrier returned to Virginia, the Navy began closely monitoring sailors and having workers screened at the pier. There is also a process for new personnel, who must wait two weeks before coming aboard. Shipyard employees go through screening starting at 4 a.m. daily to ensure they are onboard at the start of the workday and are working staggered shifts, Downey said.

Former Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly held a “Make Ford Ready Summit” on Jan. 9 to ensure the Ford would deploy on time since there have been major program delays. Acting Navy Secretary James McPherson will continue hosting these summits, a Navy spokeswoman told Aerospace DAILY April 22. Modly resigned from his position after controversial remarks he made after the novel coronavirus spread through the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), infecting and ultimately killing sailors. Downey said he conducts a daily review of the Ford and senior Navy leadership are briefed weekly on the carrier’s progress.

Separately, Pentagon acquisition executive Ellen Lord said April 21 that shipbuilding is one of the most at-risk sectors for the supply chain during COVID-19. Downey said the Ford has not encountered any significant problems with the supply chain because of the virus.

“We have accelerated our payments to industry within what is allowed in the contract,” which equates to about one quarter, Downey said. This change has resulted in $1.5 billion in payments delivered three months early.