Aircraft Carrier USS Gerald R. Ford: Biggest Warship Ever Headed Home

Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier

Aircraft Carrier USS Gerald R. Ford: Biggest Warship Ever Headed Home

CVN-78 or navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, the lead vessel of a new class of nuclear-powered carriers that will begin to replace the Cold War-era Nimitz-class on a one-for-one basis over the next several decades, isn't just the largest warship ever built – it is also the most expensive.

 

The World's Largest Warship is Headed Home: Following an eight-month deployment – extended due to the Israel-Hamas War in Gaza – the United States Navy's USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) and strike group are now headed home to Norfolk. However, the U.S. will continue to maintain a presence in the region to deter aggression from Iranian-back proxies, and to help keep the ongoing conflict from escalating.

The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5), amphibious transport ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19), and dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) are slated to fill in for the carrier's presence in the region, according to U.S. 6th Fleet.

 

"With the embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), these ships have re-aggregated as the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) in the eastern Mediterranean. The ARG/MEU consists of three ships and approximately 2,000 Marines that provide sea-based expeditionary forces capable of supporting a wide range of missions," the 6th Fleet further announced. "Also, we are collaborating with Allies and partners to bolster maritime security in the region. DoD will continue to leverage its collective force posture in the region to deter any state or non-state actor from escalating this crisis beyond Gaza."

While not actual aircraft carriers, both the USS Carter Hall and USS Bataan can support rotary aircraft; while the amphibious assault ship can also carry and support the United States Marine Corps' F-35B, the short/vertical takeoff and landing (S/VTOL) variant of the Lighting II fighter aircraft.

United States Central Command (CENTCOM) announced in early October that it would deploy the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean to support Israel following the terrorist attack carried out by Hamas that left more than 1,000 dead on both sides – including several Americans.

The Israeli government formally declared war on Hamas and gave a green light for "significant military steps" to retaliate against Hamas.

The strike group included the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier the newest and largest nuclear-powered supercarrier in the U.S. fleet, as well as the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), the Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116), USS Ramage (DDG 61), USS Carney (DDG 64), and USS Roosevelt (DDG 80).

The Pentagon has in recent months extended CVN-78's deployment three times in the Eastern Mediterranean, while USS Ramage already returned to the states for a scheduled maintenance availability.

Since it was extended in the Eastern Mediterranean, the USS Gerald R. Ford and the Nimitz-class USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) have been part of a two-carrier presence bracketing the Israel-Hamas war.

USS Gerald R. Ford Aircraft Carrier: The Most Expensive Warship Ever Built

CVN-78, the lead vessel of a new class of nuclear-powered carriers that will begin to replace the Cold War-era Nimitz-class on a one-for-one basis over the next several decades, isn't just the largest warship ever built – it is also the most expensive.

Its total price tag came in at about $13.3 billion, nearly 30 percent higher than initial estimates. It suffered from numerous delays and the "kinks" are still being worked out of some of its key systems. That fact isn't entirely surprising as it is a new class of carrier loaded with new technology.

Things are supposed to be easier, and the costs less, with the next carriers of the class.

It was also reported that the U.S. Navy can expect to save about $5 billion per ship in maintenance costs over the life of the program than the preceding Nimitz-class. The service had previously set a target of $4 billion per ship in savings.

Moreover, the Ford-class of carriers relies on greater automation, and the vessels were designed to operate effectively with nearly 700 fewer crew members than the Nimitz-class. The savings in operations and maintenance could free up money for other readiness and acquisition needs.

In the fall of 2022, USS Gerald R. Ford made the first international port visit in Halifax, Nova Scotia, followed by the first European port visit in Portsmouth, U.K. During the scheduled deployment, CVN-78 operated with eight NATO Allies and partners to strengthen interoperability and interchangeability, conducting a range of maritime operations and exercises. She traveled more than 9,275 nautical miles with the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group (GRFCSG), completed more than 1,250 sorties, expended 78.3 tons of ordnance, and completed 13 underway replenishment.

GRFCSG also participated in Exercise Silent Wolverine, demonstrating high-end naval warfare and integrated NATO interoperability in the maritime approaches to Europe. Silent Wolverine was an opportunity for the nuclear-powered supercarrier's crew to train and test capabilities while demonstrating the U.S. commitment to Allies and partners through seamless integration.

The flattop is capable of carrying upwards of 90 of the United States Navy’s most advanced aircraft, and that includes the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft and MH-60R/S helicopter as well as unmanned air and combat vehicles. In addition, Ford will also be able to recover and launch various Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft flown by the United States Marine Corps including the F-35B Lightning II.

Ford-Class

The carrier is also the first to be equipped with the Electromagnetic Launching System (EMALS), which will be utilized with all future U.S. Navy carriers. It replaced the traditional steam catapults for launching aircraft and can provide for more accurate end-speed control, with a smoother acceleration at both high and low speeds. It can be used to launch a range of aircraft from small unmanned drones to heavy strike fighters. This also allows for a higher sortie rate of upward of 160 sorties a day with surges to a maximum of 220 sorties a day in times of crisis or during intense air warfare activity.

To accommodate the increase, there were design changes to the flight deck, which has a relocated and smaller island. Additionally, there are three rather than four deck-edge elevators, while deck extensions have increased the aircraft parking areas.

USS Gerald R. Ford

This recent deployment should help sway the naysayers that the largest warship is more than up to the task. 

Author Experience and Expertise

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

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