After Carrier Ford's Elevators Failed, the Navy Is Building a New Test Site

 Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer is briefed by Lt. Cmdr. Chabonnie Alexander, USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) ordnance handling officer, on the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator during a tour of the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier on Jan. 17, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kiana A. Raines)
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer is briefed by Lt. Cmdr. Chabonnie Alexander, USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) ordnance handling officer, on the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator during a tour of the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier on Jan. 17, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kiana A. Raines)

Navy leaders want to prevent a repeat of the problems that left the service's latest -- and most expensive -- aircraft carrier without any working weapons elevators.

The Navy will build a new land-based test site for its advanced weapons elevators, Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, head of Naval Sea Systems Command, told reporters this week. The site will be based in Philadelphia, he said, and crews, mechanics and engineers who will work with the elevators will train there.

"We would've been better, frankly, to have had a land-based testing site for weapons elevators on Ford," Moore said. "If that had been the case, we wouldn't be where we are today. I'm convinced of that."

The first round of the service's new state-of-the-art, advanced weapons elevators, which are designed to lift more bombs from below deck faster than the cable versions on Nimitz-class carriers, had major problems. When the aircraft carrier Ford, the first ship in the Navy's latest class of flattops, was delivered to the service in 2017, none of the 11 elevators on board worked properly.

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That was largely due to software and control systems responsible for keeping the platforms level, telling the doors when to close and stopping the elevator from failing.

"In a perfect world -- and hindsight is 20/20 -- we would've built this back in probably 2008 and not today," Moore said.

The Navy has land-based test sites for some of the other new technology used aboard the Ford, including the dual-band radar, arresting gear and the electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS. However, sailors have still reported problems with those systems.

In 2017, the Navy's Operational Test and Evaluation Force issued a report stating that the poor or unknown reliability of those platforms could leave the Ford more vulnerable to attack and unable to conduct high-intensity flight operations that would be expected during wartime.

Moore defended the ship, saying he remains optimistic about its future performance. The systems aboard it are complex, he said, which is why the Navy needs to find ways to "iron out the bugs" as sailors are likely to be operating from the ships for decades to come.

The first of the advanced weapons elevators was delivered to the Ford in December. The goal to have all 11 elevators in place and operating by this summer is still on track, Moore said.

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said he's so serious about meeting that timeline that he told President Donald Trump that if he doesn't meet it, "you can fire me."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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