By Debbie Gregory.
The U.S. Navy is about to begin testing its newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78). The Ford, which is the first of the Ford Class carriers, is set to be the largest and most advanced warship that the world has ever seen. By the time that the USS Ford is put into official service, she will be fitted with the most up to date, state of the art radar and weapons system in the fleet. This technology includes the ability to launch and detect unmanned aerial vehicles, known as UAVs/drones.
The USS Ford was christened on November 9, 2013. The Ford Class is the first new class of aircraft carriers to enter the U.S. Navy since the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) was commissioned in 1975. The Ford Class carriers will feature larger flight decks, due to the reduction in size and placement of the superstructure. The Ford Class will also utilize four electromagnetic aircraft launching systems (EMALS) that will replace the steam-powered systems used on the Nimitz Class. The EMALS are expected to be an improvement, primarily due to their lower operating costs and the ability to use all four catapults equally. Nimitz Class ships’ catapults put a restriction on their #4 Catapult. These improvements have Navy leadership expecting the Ford Class to be able to accommodate 25% more aircraft launches per day, with 25% less crew.
The Ford class will also have 25 decks, compared to the average 18 for Nimitz Class ships. The ship will also be 24 feet longer and 4 feet wider than the largest Nimitz Class carrier, the USS George HW Bush (CVN-77). The USS Ford will also be equipped with the latest phased array radar systems, and the newest A1B nuclear reactors for propulsion. The Ford will also have the capacity to carry approximately 90 aircraft and over 4,600 personnel.
The USS Ford will end up costing approximately $12.8 billion to create, equip and commission. But with the upgraded equipment, the Navy expects to save approximately $4 billion dollars in operating and manning costs over the ship’s expected 50-year lifespan.
Because of the Ford’s building cost, several law makers and government officials have criticized the Navy and its newest war machine. But Navy leadership is defending their decision and their ship. There are already plans for two more Ford Class aircraft carriers, the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and the USS Enterprise (CVN-80). These two new Ford Class ships are scheduled to replace the USS Nimitz and the USS Eisenhower.
The USS Gerald R. Ford was named for the 38th President of the United States, who was a Veteran of the U.S. Navy. He served a decorated WWII officer, receiving two Bronze Stars and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with nine engagement stars. Ford separated from the Navy in 1946 as a Lieutenant Commander (0-4). CVN-78 is expected to be fully operational in 2016.