Sixth Advanced Weapons Elevator Certified aboard USS Gerald R. Ford
(Source: US Navy; issued July 23, 2020)
Shipyard workers fixing the USS Ford’s weapon elevator. The US Navy has been fixing problems on the USS Ford since 2017, when she was commissioned, and the Navy now says the final elevator will be fixed by early 2022. (US Navy photo)
WASHINGTON --- Program Executive Office (PEO) Aircraft Carriers announced the on-schedule certification and turnover of a sixth Advanced Weapons Elevator (AWE) aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), July 22.

Designed to move ordnance efficiently from the ship’s forward magazine to the flight deck, via the forward weapons handling and transfer area, Lower Stage Weapons Elevator (LSWE) 1 augments the exceptional lift capability of LSWE 5, enhancing the speed and effectiveness of combat system and flight deck training operations at the midpoint of the ship’s Post Delivery Test and Trials (PDT&T) phase of operations.

“LSWE 5 has given us the capacity 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,” said Rear Adm. James P. Downey, program executive officer for Aircraft Carriers. “LSWE 1 doubles-down on that capability and ramps up the velocity of flight deck operations. LSWEs 1 and 5 will now operate in tandem, providing a dramatic capability improvement as we proceed toward full combat system certification aboard Ford.”

The crew will operate the elevator during the next underway period to exercise the system in an at-sea environment, train crewmembers, and validate operational and maintenance procedures.

Since November 2019, Gerald R. Ford has been conducting a series of independent steaming events (ISEs) interlaced with shore-based maintenance Windows of Opportunity (WOOs). The first-of-class aircraft carrier is now entering the second half of its 18-month PDT&T, with the pace of flight deck operations intensifying. To date, the ship has launched and recovered more than 3,450 aircraft.

In June, Gerald R. Ford embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, which conducted cyclic flight operations day and night, amassing 324 catapult launches and arrested landings and qualifying 50 pilots. During this evolution, crews moved thousands of pounds of inert ordnance via the ship’s advanced weapons elevators, loading them on F/A-18 Super Hornets that conducted Close Air Support and air-to-ground training missions—operational firsts for the Ford-class warship.

Commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 also embarked Gerald R. Ford during this underway, marking the first time a Strike Group Commander and staff embarked for operations.

Gerald R. Ford’s Advanced Weapons Elevators have logged more than 10,300 cycles. As the number of AWEs turned over to Ship’s Force increases, the crew will rehearse the complex weapons loading processes in real time with qualifying aircraft, proving the flexibility and versatility of the aircraft carrier’s advanced technology.

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.

“Ship’s Force is testing the elevators in real-world environments as they train for full operational capability,” explained Capt. Brian A. Metcalf, PMS 378 program manager for Gerald R. Ford. “The key is sustained performance over time. Each elevator has unique operational capabilities, and on-board training allows the crew to learn how to use the elevators to support flight ops. This rigorous focus on cycling the systems ensures that AWE operations remain sustainable and reliable.”

Downey noted that Gerald R. Ford has maintained an intense operational tempo during the testing and trials period and succeeded in certifying LSWE 1 on schedule, in spite of challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Priority number one is protecting the crew from this virus,” said Downey. “We’re building flexibility into the PDT&T schedule without sacrificing operational momentum or the ship’s readiness. That takes planning, innovative scheduling, and some degree of courage. And, so far, courage and tenacity are what have distinguished the Sailors of Warship 78.”

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