The Buzz

America's Most Powerful Aircraft Carrier Ever Is Close to Joining the U.S. Navy

The new U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford got underway today for her acceptance trails, paving the way for the ship to be formally commissioned into service later this year. Only once the ship is commissioned will the massive carrier have the prefix United States Ship—or USS.

“It is worth noting that Gerald R. Ford CVN-78 got underway today on acceptance trials and is on track to deliver this month,” acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Defense (SAC-D) on May 24. “Lessons learned on Ford’s design and construction are driving down costs on first follow-on ship, the John F. Kennedy, today.”

President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal also formally requests the procurement of a third Ford-class carrier, the future USS Enterprise CVN-80. The Ford-class is the Navy’s first new design aircraft carrier in over forty years, Stackley noted in his written testimony. Thus far the massive 100,000-ton vessel is delivering on its promises, but the Navy has concerns about the sheer cost of the powerful new aircraft carriers.

“The Ford is delivering on promised capability, as demonstrated by land-based, pierside, and at-sea testing to-date,” Stackley wrote. “The cost for this new ship class remains of great concern, however, and the Navy and industry are focused on capturing lead ship lessons learned, refining the ship construction process, capitalizing on technological improvements, and enhancing shipbuilder facilities to drive down cost. Cost performance on CVN 79 is promising thus far, and we are committed to expanding ongoing cost control initiatives to further reduce ship cost.”

Meanwhile, the Navy is continuing to try to recapitalize its carrier air wings with new aircraft in the fiscal year 2018 budget submission—buying a total of 91 manned and unmanned aircraft. “Of particular note, the budget request including funding for 24 F-35s and 14 Super Hornet aircraft which will help to arrest the decline in our strike fighter inventory while keeping us on target for six squadrons of fifth-generation aircraft from our carrier flight decks in the 2024 timeframe,” Stackley said.

However, Trump’s new defense budget actually cuts aviation procurement for the Navy. The focus is less on procurement and more on rebuilding the Navy’s readiness, which has seen a profound decline in recent years due to the combined effects of the 2011 Budget Control Act, repeated disruptions are result of continuing resolutions and massive overuse.

“Even as we invested in enhancing our readiness, our FY18 budget request also supports moving into the future,” Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, wrote in his written testimony to the SAC-D. “We made minor adjustments to our planned aircraft purchases, requesting one additional P-8A maritime patrol aircraft in this year’s request and reducing our expected purchases of F-35C fighters from 6 to 4.”

Both Stackley and Richardson stressed that the Navy must rebuild its readiness before the service embarks on a process of expansion. The United States must have a larger fleet to take-on ever more capable adversaries—such as Russia and China—around the globe.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.