America's Most Advanced Aircraft Carrier Ever Could Set Sail for Asia or Middle East
The Navy's new next-generation aircraft carrier will likely deploy to the Middle East or Pacific theater, bringing a new generation of carrier technologies to strategically vital hotspots around the world, service officials told Scout Warrior.
"If you look at where the priorities and activities are now - that is where it will likely go," a Navy official told Scout Warrior.
The Navy's top acquisition official, Sean Stackley, told Congress earlier this year that the new carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, will deliver to the Navy in September of this year; following deployment preparations called "post shakedown availability" in 2017 and "shock trials" in 2019, the carrier is slated to deploy in 2021, service officials said. "Shock trials" involve testing the large ship in a series of different maritime conditions such as rough seas caused by explosions from combat and enemy fire.
The Navy official stressed that no formal decisions have, as of yet, been made regarding deployment and that the USS Ford's deployment will naturally depend upon what the geopolitical and combat requirements wind up being in the early 2020s.
"Deciding where to deploy an aircraft carrier always involves a thoughtful and deliberate process," another Navy official told Scout Warrior.
At the same time, given the Pentagon's Pacific rebalance, it is not difficult or surprising to forsee the new carrier venturing to the Pacific. The power-projection capabilities of the new carrier could likely be designed as a deterrent to stop China from more aggressive activities in places such as the highly-contested South China Sea. The Navy's plan for the Pacific does call for the service to operate as much as 60-percent of its fleet in the Asia Pacific region.
Having a high-tech carrier in the Pacific could better enable the Navy to strengthen its presence in the region.
(This first appeared in Scout Warrior here.)
Also, the continued volatility in the Middle East, and the Navy's ongoing involvement in Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS could very well create conditions wherein the USS Ford would be needed in the Arabian Gulf. The higher sortie or mission rate afforded by the USS Ford could quicken the pace, volume or intensity of airstrikes against ISIS as well.
The service specifically engineered Ford-class carriers with a host of next-generation technologies designed to address future threat environments. These include a larger flight deck able to increase the sortie-generation rate by 33-percent, an electromagnetic catapult to replace the current steam system and much greater levels of automation or computer controls throughout the ship, among other things.
The ship is also engineered to accommodate new sensors, software, weapons and combat systems as they emerge, Navy officials have said.
The ship’s larger deck space is, by design, intended to accommodate a potential increase in use of carrier-launched technologies such as unmanned aircraft systems in the future.
The USS Ford is built with four 26-megawatt generators, bringing a total of 104 megawatts to the ship. This helps support the ship's developing systems such as its Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, and provides power for future systems such as lasers and rail-guns, many Navy senior leaders have explained.
The USS Ford also needs sufficient electrical power to support its new electro-magnetic catapult, dual-band radar and Advanced Arresting Gear, among other electrical systems.
As technology evolves, laser weapons may eventually replace some of the missile systems on board aircraft carriers, Navy leaders have said. Laser weapons need about 300 kilowatts in order to generate power and fire from a ship.
Should they be employed, laser weapons could offer carriers a high-tech, lower cost offensive and defensive weapon aboard the ship able to potential incinerate incoming enemy missiles in the sky.
The Ford-class ships are engineered with a redesigned island, slightly larger deck space and new weapons elevators in order to achieve an increase in sortie-generation rate. The new platforms are built to launch more aircraft and more seamlessly support a high-op tempo.
The new weapons elevators allow for a much more efficient path to move and re-arm weapons systems for aircraft. The elevators can take weapons directly from their magazines to just below the flight deck, therefore greatly improving the sortie-generation rate by making it easier and faster to re-arm planes, service officials explained.
The next-generation technologies and increased automation on board the Ford-Class carriers are also designed to decrease the man-power needs or crew-size of the ship and, ultimately, save more than $4 billion over the life of the ships.
The Navy plans to build Ford-class carriers for at least 50-years as a way to replace the existing Nimitz-class carriers on a one-for-one basis. This schedule will bring the Ford carriers service-life well into the next century and serve all the way until at least 2110, Navy leaders have said.