Navy secretary says it was a 'gut blow' when shipbuilder HII finally revealed the seriousness of the problems with the USS Gerald R. Ford's weapons elevators

Navy secretary says it was a 'gut blow' when shipbuilder HII finally revealed the seriousness of the problems with the USS Gerald R. Ford's weapons elevators

USS Gerald R Ford

  • Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer again criticized shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries on Sunday for its handling of weapons elevators on the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier.
  • His comments this weekend marked the second time in a week he has publicly called out the company, specifically its senior management and board of directors, on this issue.
  • While Spencer has praised the HII workforce, he says that the company failed to adequately communicate to the Navy the difficulties it was facing developing and integrating the elevators, which are important warfighting systems.
  • He said that when HII finally revealed the reality of the situation, it was a "bit of a gut blow."
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The Navy secretary has continued to voice his frustration with a shipbuilder over unanticipated setbacks in the development and integration of critical technology for the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of a new class of aircraft carriers that returned to sea last Friday.

Progress has been made on the Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWEs), important lift systems necessary for the rapid movement of munitions to the flight deck for improved sortie rates and increased lethality, but work on these systems is far behind schedule.

While all eleven elevators were expected to be ready to go by mid-July, and then later the end of October, these systems may not be completely ready for many more months.

While Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer has praised the Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) workforce, he has twice in the past week publicly criticized the company's senior management and board of directors for its handling of the elevators.


The Navy's top civilian official argues that HII's leadership did not properly relay to the Navy the difficulties associated with getting the elevators operational, and when the truth finally came out, it was a "gut blow."

"My frustration ... is with senior management and the board of directors," the secretary told reporters Sunday, explaining that the Navy did not have a suitable understanding of the situation due to failures on the part of the shipbuilder to explain what was really going on with the lifts.

"All through the fall we had a July 15 sail away date that they were fairly confident they were gonna get all the elevators done," the secretary said. Last December, Spencer staked his career on finishing the elevators by the end of the post-shakedown availability.

The PSA was expected to end in July, but it was pushed back to October this past spring, with the Navy admitting publicly that its initial plans for the weapons elevators were unachievable.

In March, "all of a sudden," the secretary revealed, "it was out into 2021, 2022. That was a bit of a gut blow which questioned in my mind, do they really know what the problem is?"


Spencer's latest comments follow a conversation with reporters last week where the secretary accused HII of having "no idea" what it was doing with the Ford and appeared to suggest that Congress call on the shipbuilder to testify before lawmakers.

"Secretary Spencer did not state publicly anything yesterday that he has not already said to HII privately," Spencer's spokeswoman told Business Insider recently.

He said Sunday that the Navy had to go in and take control of this part of the project; roughly three months ago, the Navy sent a dedicated team down to handle this issue.

So far, four elevators have been certified and turned over to the crew. The remaining work will be completed over the next 18 months as the ship goes through post-delivery tests and trials."

In a statement, HII said it was "working closely with the Navy to resolve" issues with the Ford.


"Most things have gone very well," HII said. "Some of the newer technologies have been more challenging than anticipated. This is to be expected on any first-in-class ship. We will continue to support our Navy partner in their preparations for the ship's deployment and we're confident that Ford will bring great capability to the Navy and to our Nation for decades to come."