April 22, 2020 – Program Executive Office (PEO) Aircraft Carriers announced the certification of a fifth Advanced Weapons Elevator (AWE) aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) this week.
The first-of-class aircraft carrier logged this important milestone at its homeport at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, just after completing a rigorous 32 days at sea, where the ship attained flight deck certification and conducted additional catapult launches and arrested landings, bringing the total number of aircraft launched to more than 2,300.
“In just the last few weeks, we’ve seen an increase in the velocity of flight deck operations and new system certifications aboard Gerald R. Ford that’s beyond impressive,” said Rear Adm. James P. Downey, program executive officer for Aircraft Carriers. “Certifying Lower Stage Weapons Elevator 5 [LSWE 5] is extraordinarily significant, in that we now have the capability to move ordnance from the aft magazine complex deep in the ship through the carrier to the flight deck with a speed and agility that has never been seen before on any warship in any fleet.”
Downey’s enthusiasm echoes that of Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition James “Hondo” Geurts, who announced April 16 that the ship was closing in on the milestone.
Certifying this key weapons platform enables CVN 78’s crew to elevate combat system and flight deck training to another level during the ship’s Post Delivery Test and Trials (PDT&T) phase of operations. The crew will operate this AWE at sea during its next underway period in May to ensure effective operations of the system in its operational environment, train additional crewmembers, and validate training and maintenance procedures.
AWEs offer Gerald R. Ford-class carriers greater speed in moving ordnance and enhance carrying capability, while reducing manning, maintenance, and total ownership costs. The shipboard AWE construction process is unique in that it has provided a test bed for overcoming many of the incumbent developmental and production challenges associated with a first-of-class system. The ability to identify and to mitigate issues associated with each elevator’s unique operational tolerances has generated hands-on physical adjustments and software refinements, ensuring that future AWE operations are sustainable and reliable.
“The elevators are operating as designed,” confirmed Capt. Ron Rutan, PMS 378 program manager for Gerald R. Ford. “In the past year, Newport News Shipbuilding has turned over four of the ship’s 11 AWEs to the crew, with the ship’s force cycling each elevator approximately 20 times per day to make sure every system stays in good working order and to document sustained performance.”
To date, AWEs aboard CVN 78 have logged more than 8,000 cycles, with Upper Stage Weapons Elevator 1 completing 3,079 cycles; Upper Stage 2: 629 cycles; Upper Stage 3: 3,110 cycles; and an additional utility elevator cycled 1,257 times.
Additionally, Lower Stage Weapons Elevator 1, which facilitates moving ordnance from the forward magazine to the flight deck, is on track to be certified and turned over to the crew in the fourth quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2020. The remaining five elevators are on track to be certified by the time Gerald R. Ford undergoes Full Ship Shock Trials, scheduled for the third quarter of FY21.
Now more than six months into her 18-month PDT&T, Gerald R. Ford has completed aircraft compatibility testing, during which the crew launched and recovered more than 200 aircraft—testing five different airframes and employing state-of-the-art flight deck systems. And during flight deck certification in March, the crew continued exercising the carrier’s flight deck; testing the installed combat systems; and certifying fuel and aircraft launch and recovery systems.
This intense testing and trials period is crucial to ensuring the overall deployment readiness of Gerald R. Ford as well as improving upon the construction and ship trial process for follow-on carriers in the class: the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), Enterprise (CVN 80), and Doris Miller (CVN 81).
In preparation for turning over LSWE 5 to the crew, Sailors from Gerald R. Ford’s Weapons Department will launch web-based instructor training on April 23, using the Carrier-Advanced Reconfigurable Training System (C-ARTS). This training brings high-velocity instruction to the Sailor’s point of need, teaching crew members the finer points of operating a more complex lower-stage elevator system that traverses more decks, has more doors, and features a host of additional control screen indicators, while in operation.
Over the next few days, CVN 78 will send 12 Sailors to complete more than 16 hours of web-based training in the nearby C-ARTS facility, guided by an instructor working remotely from Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding Division. Ford Sailors will then return to the ship for follow-up, hands-on instruction in the elevator spaces. This web-based, C-ARTS training ensures Sailors maintain readiness for Ford’s next operational milestone, while exercising appropriate health precautions and protocols necessitated as part of the Navy’s COVID-19 response.
According to Downey, CVN 78’s accomplishments are impressive, but not unexpected. “The fact that we certified the fifth elevator is a big deal. But it’s important to remember, we’ve kept to a demanding schedule since the beginning of the year—and persevered in spite of the social distancing and health-related challenges associated with COVID-19.”
Downey added, “The Warship 78 team—everyone from shipyard workers to the elevator technical experts to ship’s crew, everybody—is meeting or exceeding their schedules. The U.S. Navy has made a commitment to make Gerald R. Ford ready. This team is delivering on that promise every day.”