The Buzz

How America is Making Sure Its New Ford-Class Aircraft Carriers are Ready for Battle

The USS Ford is now going through Builders Sea Trials and is also expected to go through a deployment preparation phase known as “post shakedown availability.” Depending upon progress with testing, the Ford is slated to deliver by as soon as sometime next month.

Navy officials tell Scout Warrior that the second Ford-class ship, the future USS Kennedy, will be 50-percent built this year.

This comes alongside recent Navy reports that the USS Ford is now “99-percent” complete. Ship developers say the USS Ford is expected to deliver to the Navy later this year. 

“Testing of systems continues, and we anticipate beginning sea trials in the early spring followed by ship delivery, pending the results of sea trials,” Navy spokesman William Couch told Scout Warrior in a written statement. 

Overall, 93-percent of the Ford's test program is complete, including hull mechanical and electrical assessments, propulsion testing and electronics testing, he added.

The Ford is now going through Builders Sea Trials and is also expected to go through a deployment preparation phase known as “post shakedown availability.” Depending upon progress with testing, the Ford is slated to deliver by as soon as sometime next month, said Capt. Thurraya Kent, with the Asst. Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition.

While the second and third Ford-class carrier are is moving along with construction, advanced procurement is now underway for the future USS Enterprise, the third Ford-class carrier, Couch added. 

Testing New Technologies Against Enemy Explosions: 

The Ford-class carriers, beginning with the USS Ford, bring the advent of a wide range of unprecedented ship technologies specifically engineered for this high-tech future class of carriers. As a result, testing the technologies and combat durability of the USS Ford is expected to bring implications for the entire class of Ford-carriers.

There is much more computer automation aboard Ford-class carriers, a development which brings the advantage of decreasing the needed carrier-crew size by as many as 800-to-1000 sailors.

 Also, by virtue of conducting a wider range of ship functions, such as diagnostics and machinery, through advanced computer automation, the Navy expects to save as much as $4 billion over the life of the carrier. While the new computer technology has of course been engineered to withstand the most rigorous of combat conditions, upcoming evaluations will set a new precedent for these systems.

The Ford’s new electronic elevators -- which better enable ship crews to reload fighter jets on deck -- also need to be put through “Shock Trials” to see if they can function while under attack. 

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 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.

Furthermore, the ship’s new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System will pioneer a new, far more capable, take-off-and-landing technology for carrier aircraft; accordingly, this too needs to be assessed in response to nearby explosions.

The EMALS system uses an electromagnetic field to propel aircraft instead of the currently used steam catapult.

On the USS Ford, the below-deck EMALS equipment has been installed. This consists of a series of transformers and rectifiers designed to convert and store electrical power through a series of motor generators before bringing power to the launch motors on the catapults, Navy developers have explained.

By having this electrical pulse come down, the aircraft is pulled down to the catapult before launch. This allows ship engineers to dial in the precise weight of the aircraft. The ship can then accelerate at the precise speed needed to take off in a smooth way – as opposed to a “shot-gun” type steam catapult.

Unlike steam catapults which use pressurized steam, a launch valve and a piston to catapult aircraft, EMALS uses a precisely determined amount of electrical energy. As a result, EMALS is designed to more smoothly launch aircraft while reducing stress and wear and tear on the airframes themselves, he added.

On the ship, EMALS will be engineered such that any of the ship's four catapults will be able to draw power from any one of three energy storage groups on the ship, developers said.

Threats & Emerging Carrier Defenses 

While carriers often travel in carrier strike groups where they are protected by nearby destroyers and cruisers, ship survivability continues to take on added importance for Navy developers in light of fast emerging threats. Navy weapons and technology experts want aircraft carriers themselves in the future to operate with a much greater level of “survivability.”

In fact, Navy planners to anticipate adding more ship defenses to carriers in coming years, to include the possibility of deck-mounted interceptor missiles, lasers, electronic warfare and other new elements of a layered ship defense system.