The lead ship of a new class of US Navy aircraft carriers has received its second advanced weapons elevator (AWE), nearly one month after receiving the first one and some 20 months after entering service.
USS Gerald R. Ford’s AWE Upper Stage #3 was turned over to the ship February 14, following testing and certification by engineers at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), where the ship is currently working through its post-shakedown availability (PSA).
Upper Stage #3 is located in the ship’s aft weapons handling area, giving the ship two upper stage elevators in each of its handling areas – one forward and now one aft. The dedicated weapons handling areas between the hangar bay and the flight deck are unique to the Ford-class and eliminate the need for a “bomb farm” like those of Nimitz-class carriers while reducing horizontal and vertical weapons movements to various staging and build-up locations.
According to Ford’s Weapons Officer, Cmdr. Joe Thompson, acceptance of the second AWE offers an opportunity for Ford sailors to become acquainted with the equipment during the PSA.
“This gives us more time to learn and become subject matter experts,” explained Thompson. “All of us are learning on brand new systems and brand new concepts. This acceptance gives us the opportunity to have that ‘run time’ on the physical aspects of the elevator, but also in evaluating the technical manuals, and learning the maintenance required to keep them operational.”
With two elevators in hand, Thompson explained that sailors training on these new systems will be able to apply the lessons learned from the first elevator, Upper Stage #1, and apply them to Upper Stage #3, thereby streamlining the learning process and lessening the learning curve.
“This is a huge step for us,” said Thompson. “With one forward, and now one aft – this brings us one step closer to being a truly lethal Weapons Department.”