The Navy’s newest Ford-class supercarrier aircraft carrier is set to become more lethal. The USS John F. Kennedy, launched and christened eleven months ago, is to be delivered with a number of modifications to its electronics suite and aircraft support infrastructure, a Navy press release explained. The modifications, estimated to cost an extra $315 million, will be installed as part of a modified single-phase acquisition plan, rather than the original two-phase plan.
When construction on the USS John F. Kennedy began in 2015, the Huntington-Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard used a two-phase construction strategy that started work on the supercarrier before some of the new technologies that were to be installed on board were mature.
Namely, a new air surveillance radar, to replace the older dual-band radar suite, was not yet ready. The dual-band system is currently in place aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of the Ford-class nuclear aircraft carrier.
In addition to electronic radar modifications, the USS John F. Kennedy will also undergo modifications in order to support F-35C Lightning II operations. The F-35C is the assisted take-off naval variant of what is the world’s most-produced stealth fighter and has the longest range of the three F-35 variants.
The USS Gerald R. Ford faced a number of delays and missed its planned construction schedule in part due to a number of new technologies that the Navy incorporated into the carrier’s design. Some of the lessons learned from the Ford in regard to construction, coupled with more modern 3D computer modeling, helped streamline the Kennedy’s construction.
The now-single phase construction strategy will allow for greater efficiency and, according to the Navy, will get the USS John F. Kennedy into service faster. Despite the savings in time that the new construction timetable will allow for, one reason for the altered construction schedule is due to legislative requirements.
In Section 124 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, Congress mandated that the ship be capable of supporting F-35C operations before it completed its post-construction shake-down rather than afterward.
The John F. Kennedy’s program manager, Capt. Philip E. Malone, stated that the new contract structure won’t change the carrier’s delivery date. “Everyone, from shipyard workers to the design engineers to the crew, is looking forward to fully incorporating the new warfare system and the F-35C modifications,” the Capitan explained. “The U.S. Navy and the shipbuilder have made a commitment to deliver JFK in 2024, and the team is delivering on that promise every day.”
Stay tuned for more details about the world’s most lethal aircraft carrier ever as they emerge.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.