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Elevator woes linger on new US carrier, as ‘nightmare weapon’ concerns raised

2nd August 2019 - 13:48 GMT | by Marc Selinger in Washington, DC

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The US Navy is struggling to fix technical problems with the advanced weapons elevators on the first Ford-class aircraft carrier, according to a key senator.

Only two of the ship’s 11 elevators will be working when USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78) leaves its current maintenance and upgrade period in Virginia in October, despite earlier assurances from the navy that all of them would be ready by then, said Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Nine elevators are not expected to be functioning until 2020 or later. 

The delay ‘indicates either poor knowledge of the facts or poor judgment’ by the navy, Inhofe said on 31 July at a hearing on the nomination of VADM Michael Gilday to be chief of naval operations. 

The elevators, which use a new electromagnetic hoist system instead of traditional cables, are supposed to transport munitions from storage to the flight deck.

‘If you’re carrying ordnance in elevators and they don’t work, that’s not much good in the field,’ Inhofe said.

Gilday, who is currently director of the US DoD’s Joint Staff, called the delay ‘unacceptable,’ saying ‘we need all 11 elevators working in order to give us the kind of redundancy and combat readiness that the American taxpayer has invested in that ship.’

While a land-based test site for the elevators is now being built in Philadelphia, the facility was not constructed earlier because the elevators, which are based on existing commercial technology, were not deemed a high risk, Gilday testified. 

Navy officials have described the elevators as the last remaining major technical hurdle for the ship, whose various equipment glitches delayed its delivery to the service by about two years, to 2017. 

But Sen Angus King, a Maine independent, suggested that a new kind of problem is looming for Ford and other carriers. He said the US military lacks adequate sensors to track the hypersonic missiles that China and Russia are developing, and lacks comparable weapons that could deter a hypersonic attack.

‘When you’re talking about something coming 6,000 miles an hour, that you can’t see, that could have a nuclear warhead, that’s maneuverable, that’s a nightmare weapon,’ King said. ‘Unless we can solve this problem, it renders aircraft carriers obsolete. Every aircraft carrier that we own can disappear in a coordinated attack.’

Also at the hearing, Sen Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, expressed concern that the navy has a shortage of parts for its Virginia-class attack submarines.

‘We are actually cannibalizing parts from other ships to update them,’ she said.

Gilday testified that the navy is trying to eliminate parts shortfalls for the Virginia class and other ship classes by ensuring parts requirements are identified well before vessels are built. He pledged to ‘take a deeper look at parts availability’ if he is confirmed by the senate.

Marc Selinger

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Marc Selinger


Marc is a freelance contributor to Shephard Media's news streams, with decades of experience writing …

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