The United States Navy's first $13 billion Ford-class aircraft carrier finally has one working weapons elevator — and it may help secure the job of the Cabinet member who told Trump "fire me" if the elevator was not installed by this summer.
The first advanced weapons elevator was accepted by the military last week, the US Navy said in a news release. Now, the shipbuilders and engineers only have 10 more weapons elevators left to install on the huge ship.
The progress means the Navy is 1/11 of the way toward preventing US Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer (SECNAV) from being told "you're fired" by Trump.
Spencer committed to completing the elevator at the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. "I said, ‘Let's do this like corporate America.' I shook his hand and said, ‘The elevators will be ready when she pulls out, or you can fire me,'" Spencer recalled telling the president during an appearance at a Center for a New American Security event in early January. "I haven't been fired by anyone yet; being fired by the president really isn't on the top of my list."
The need for accountability over the elevator project is dire. The carrier was commissioned in July 2017, already two years behind schedule and more than $2 billion over budget. When the carrier was commissioned, it did not have a working elevator to bring up weapons from the ship's main deck to its flight deck, where they can be put into aircraft weapon holsters.
Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has connected the resolution of the weapons elevator issue with his approval of the Navy's request to procure a pair of new carriers, USNI News reported.
"The fleet needed and expected this ship to be delivered in 2015," Inhofe said in a statement to USNI News earlier this month, adding, "Until all of the advanced weapons elevators work on CVN-78, we only have ten operational aircraft carriers, despite a requirement for 12. This mismatch deprives our fleet commanders of a ship they need and increases stress on existing aircraft carriers to cover the gap."
Like Spencer, Inhofe says he expects all 11 elevators to be on the ship by summer's end. He also said he's requested "the Navy provide monthly updates on these elevators until the fleet receives the fully operational aircraft carrier that taxpayers have spent more than $13 billion to build."
Watchdog group The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has called the idea of buying two carriers at once "acquisition insanity," noting how it does not make sense to buy Ford-class carriers in bulk while kinks are being ironed out with the very first Ford-class model, the USS Ford itself.
"Discussion about a multiple-ship buy for the Ford-class is, to put it mildly, a bit premature," POGO reported in March 2018.
Major delays in development and construction have dogged the carrier. Issues with the arresting gear, which helps aircraft land, as well as the electromagnetic aircraft launch system, earned the USS Ford a spot on the late Sen. John McCain's "America's Most Wasted Report" and a unique characterization from the Republican: "one of the most spectacular acquisition debacles in recent memory."