The Buzz

Inside the USS Gerald Ford, the Navy's Most Powerful Aircraft Carrier Ever

As McCormack explained, the Navy will use the post-commissioning shakedown to test all of the new systems onboard Ford to identify any deficiencies or fixes that might need to be made. Ford will then move into a post-shakedown availability where the shipyard will make any needed corrections and install certain critical components onboard the ship that have yet to be installed. One such system is Ford’s Dual Band Radar, McCormack said, where there is still ongoing work that must be completed.

The United States Navy will commission the first of a new generation of aircraft carriers into service today.

The future USS Gerald R. Ford ​(CVN-78) will represent the future of naval aviation and will be the most advanced and capable aircraft carrier ever built.

(This first appeared last year.)

With Ford’s imminent commissioning ceremony coming up later this month, the Navy invited The National Interest to preview the mighty warship and see the new vessel’s technology firsthand on July 10.

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Even at first glance, PCU Gerald R. Ford is an impressive sight even as she was moored pierside at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia next to older Nimitz-class carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69)—one of America’s oldest flattops, USS George Washington (CVN-73) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).

Immediately noticeable is that Gerald R. Ford’s island is not only smaller than that of the Nimitz-class carriers, but that the structure is set further astern by about 140ft and slightly further starboard. Moreover, unlike regular fleet carriers, the brand-new Ford is still in pristine condition and sports a gold-painted anchor—a badge of honor noting that she has an exceptionally high crew retention rate.

Entering the massive vessel via one of her three aircraft elevators—Nimitz-class ships have four—into her cavernous hangar bay, Ford’s interior looks similar to that of other carriers. However, whereas the Nimitz-class has three partitions in their hangar bays, the new CVN-78-class has only two in order to simplify maintenance.

As we walked into the interior to climb up to the bridge, the air conditioning is immediately noticeable. Ford is able to produce 9,900 tons of air conditioning—which not only makes for a more productive crew but should reduce maintenance requirements for new vessels because of reduced humidity. Indeed, the key tenant of the entire CVN-78-class is improved maintainability and efficiency. Unlike previous carriers, Ford is projected to enter drydock only once every 12 years.

Climbing up into Ford’s bridge, the systems are far more advanced than anything else in the Navy’s fleet other than the new Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyers. All of the controls and navigational systems are completely digital and use touch-screen interfaces. The only concession to the past is a metal wheel connected to an electronic steering and transmission system—though the ship does have backup systems.

The entire ship features far greater automation—with far greater reliance on electrical and electronic systems—than any other carrier in the fleet. To power her systems and to meet future growth requirements, Ford’s twin nuclear reactors are almost three times more powerful than the ones onboard the Nimitz-class—generating 250 percent more electricity. Indeed, sister PCU John F. Kennedy (CVN-79)—currently under construction—will adopt electrically-powered elevators, further reducing the need for hydraulic systems.

Primary flight control—which is a few more decks up on the island—is similarly high-tech, but aside from a few modifications to the firefighting system—the setup is very similar to the Nimitz-class according to Lt. Commander Jon Biehl, Ford’s mini-boss (deputy air boss) and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot. Biehl said he is very confident in the new carrier’s systems though the ship has yet to be tested in launching and recovering real aircraft.

“Very confident, it’s proven to be successful,” Biehl said.

Several decks down in Flight-deck Control, I was surprised to see a traditional “Ouija board,” which visually indicates the position and status of aircraft on the ship’s flight deck using scaled aircraft templates and various pins and washers. Ford has automated systems that track the location and status of the ship’s aircraft, but the crew setup the Ouija board as a manual backup—and for the sake of tradition.

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