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On Costliest U.S. Warship Ever, Navy Can’t Get Munitions on Deck

Only two of 11 elevators needed to lift munitions to the deck of the U.S. Navy’s new $13 billion aircraft carrier have been installed, according to a Navy veteran who serves on a key House committee.

“I don’t see an end in sight right now” to getting all the elevators working on the USS Gerald R. Ford, the costliest warship ever, Democratic Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia said in an interview. The ship was supposed to be delivered with the Advanced Weapons Elevators, which are moved by magnets rather than cables, working in May 2017.

It’s another setback for contractor Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. -- and for the Navy, which had said in December it planned to complete installation and testing of all 11 elevators before the Ford completed its post-delivery shakedown phase this month, with at least half certified for operation.

Instead, the shakedown phase has been extended to October and the vessel won’t have all the elevators installed -- much less functioning -- by then, according to Luria, a 20-year Navy surface warfare officer whose served on two aircraft carriers and as shore maintenance coordinator for a third.

“Essentially, the ship can’t deploy,” Luria said. “It can’t carry ammunition.” She said the Navy and Huntington Ingalls are trying to solve new problems with doors and hatches lining elevators shafts that don’t meet specifications.

Earlier: Costliest Carrier Was Delivered Without Elevators to Lift Bombs

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who’s currently filling in as acting deputy defense secretary, said in January that he told President Donald Trump to fire him if the service couldn’t fix the weapons elevators by July. Instead, Trump praised the Ford as “phenomenal” on July 22.

The Ford’s Advanced Weapons Elevators are designed for the carrier’s crew to move as much as 24,000 pounds of ordnance at 150 feet-per-minute, up from the 10,500 pounds at 100 feet-per-minute on the older Nimitz-class carrier. That would increase by more than 30% the number of combat sorties that could launch from the carrier over 24 hours, according to the Navy.

The elevators aren’t the only issue plaguing the ship, which has had problems with two other core systems -- the electromagnetic system to launch planes and the arresting gear to catch them when they land.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe said he will question Vice Admiral Michael Gilday, Trump’s nominee for chief of naval operations, about the vessel’s progress during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

“I am concerned overall that the Navy is under-equipped in key areas,” the Oklahoma Republican said in a statement. “The USS Gerald R. Ford is a prime example of that -- delivered nearly two years late, billions over budget, and 9 of 11 weapons elevators still don’t work, with costs continuing to grow,” he said in a statement.

Beci Brenton, a spokeswoman for Huntington Ingalls, said in an email that “we continue to work closely with our Navy partners to resolve the issues.” She said the Newport News, Virginia-based shipbuilder is “committed to working through the remaining build and test challenges on this system as quickly as possible, and to test, certify and turn over all” 11 elevators “safely and efficiently.”

Captain Danny Hernandez, a Navy spokesman, said because of the “concurrent nature of elevator development and construction” they “have been test beds for discovering developmental issues that have delayed the turnover to the crew.”

He cited “tight tolerances” and “physical structures adjustments,” references to the new problems with 70 elevator shaft doors and 17 hatches that don’t meet design specifications.

Fixing the problem is “a very time-intensive process of alignment where things are welded on” and have to be cut off and rewelded and realigned, Luria said.

“I think they have the technology and capability to do it, it’s just incredibly time-consuming to do this for nine more elevators,” she said.

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