Navy's Priciest Aircraft Carrier Delivered Without Elevators To Lift Bombs

The F-35 finally has some competition for costliest boondoggle in American military history.

According to Bloomberg, the most expensive Navy warship to date, the $13 billion Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, was delivered last year without the elevators it needed to lift bombs from below deck for loading on to fighter jets. The "advanced weapons" elevators were supposed to have been installed by the ship's delivery date of May 2017. However, technical problems have caused repeated delays to the installation. While answering questions from reporters, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer described the elevator system as "our Achilles heel."


One government analyst described the system as "just another example of the Navy pushing technology risk into design and construction, without fully demonstrating it."

The problems are raising the possibility that the Navy won't have enough money left over to bundle a third and fourth carriers into the $58 billion contract to develop the Ford class of ships. The initiative is part of the Navy's effort to expand its fleet to 355 from 284 by the mid-2030s. However, one Navy weapons buyer said "considerable progress" had been made on the Ford, including on the elevators, in a memo released back in July.

Another spokesman said six of the eleven elevators are close enough to being finished that the shipbuilder can operate them.

William Couch, a spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command, said the elevators are "in varying levels of construction and testing."

Six are far enough along to be operated by the shipbuilder, and testing has started on two of those, he said. All 11 “should have been completed and delivered with the ship delivery,” according to Couch.

He said the contractor has corrected "all issues," including the "four uncommanded movements over the last three years that were discovered during the building, operational grooming, or testing phases."

Meanwhile, a recent segment on PBS's "Nova", a science-focused show, heralded the electromagnetic elevators as the "elevators of tomorrow", positing that, one day, our vertical travel might be facilitated by electromagnets instead of cables.

A November 2010 program on PBS’s “Nova” science series extolled the "Elevator of Tomorrow" being developed by Federal Equipment Co., a Cincinnati-based subcontractor to Huntington Ingalls.

"In the not-too-distant future the Advanced Weapons Elevator will be lifting bombs to the flight deck of a new aircraft carrier," the narrator said. "If it survives the rigors of Navy life, someday we might all be passengers on elevators powered like this one."

Doug Ridenour, president of Federal Equipment Co., said the elevator’s key technologies “have been consistently demonstrated for years” in a test unit in the company’s plant and any programming or software-related issues have been fixed.

But "shipboard integration involves many other technology insertions not controlled by" his company, he said.

Right now, that's looking like one big "if".