According to a leading naval official, the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the massive USS Gerald R. Ford, is expected to soon have six of its 11 weapons elevators working. The equipment is necessary in order to lift ordnance from storage areas in the bowels of the ship up to the flight deck, where it is loaded onto aircraft preparing to fly out on missions.
Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts told reporters on Thursday the service was closing in on the milestone fix, but that all 11 aren’t expected to be working until next summer.
"I don't want to jinx myself with that, but I do want to give a shout out to ... the ship builders, because they've had hundreds of folks on the ship for all these at-sea periods and are getting very meaningful work done even while we're at sea," Geurts said, according to Military.com.
The original installation deadline for the necessary machinery was May of 2017, but thanks to one failed certification after another, the ship, which was already over budget and behind schedule, was delivered without a single working weapons elevator.
Earlier this month, the Ford put to sea for its first drills involving the functional elevators, which the Ford’s commander, Capt. J.J. Cummings, said in a June 2 release involved moving more than 40,000 pounds of inert ordnance up the elevators.
However, the moment was still a bit underwhelming due to a failure in another system on the Ford: the electromagnetic airplane catapults, used for launching aircraft up into the sky, broke down two days before the Ford left port and remained inoperable for the journey.
Nonetheless, the Navy said on June 7 that elevators performed “as advertised,” providing “the first opportunity for Ford’s weapons department to execute a full ordnance movement using a lower stage weapons elevator.”
"We have not seen any issues, you know, nearing 10,000 cycles of the elevators on the ship," Geurts said on Thursday. "But should we see issues, we have a way to check those out - or if we're doing changes to systems, we can check them out before we put them on the ship."
Guerts noted, however, that some of the 11 elevators provide mostly "redundancy and additional capacity,” meaning the carrier’s capabilities aren’t necessarily as curbed as they might seem.
However, Guerts avoided making a similar declaration to that of former Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who once boasted Trump could “fire me” if the Ford’s elevators weren’t up and running by the summer of 2019. Spencer lost his job that November, albeit over a separate incident in which he objected to US President Donald Trump attempting to have a US Navy SEAL who narrowly dodged conviction for war crimes restored to his previous rank.