Most Expensive Warship Ever: The U.S. Navy’s USS Gerald R. Ford
Was it worth every penny of the $12 billion?
In 2018, a Forbes.com article questioned the U.S. trade war with China and the $12 billion in emergency aid that was proposed to help American farmers. In fact, the piece proposed alternatives for what that money could buy. Suggestions included funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for almost three decades while it was also suggested every man, woman and child in American could be handed $37.42—while other media outlets suggested that the money proposed for the border wall could also buy 7,500 miles of new roads and fund college for nearly 400,000 American students.
Or that money could buy an aircraft carrier—but not just any aircraft carrier.
At $12 billion, the U.S. Navy’s USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is the most expensive warship ever built, and when factoring in the aircraft it comes out to around $18.5 billion. In addition to being the most expensive warship, it is also considered the most capable in the world—despite the fact that it has had some problems with its toilet system.
The Ford-class is the first new design for an aircraft carrier since USS Nimitz (CVN 68), which was developed in the 1960s. During its design and development, shipbuilders ensure that every inch of the ship was accounted for and this actually helped save the Navy a projected $4 billion in ownership costs over the carrier’s fifty-year lifespan. Moreover, the Ford-class was designed to be equipped with two newly-designed reactors, which provide 250 percent more electrical capacity than previous carriers. That has allowed the ship to load weapons and launch aircraft faster than ever before.
The warship also was developed to incorporate many technological advancements to ensure that it will be the most capable and efficient carrier in service anywhere in the world. This has included replacing the legacy steam‐powered systems with electric-drive components, ensuring that there is a longer time between maintenance schedules and notably-improved survivability thanks to better hull design, firefighting systems and weapons stowage.
Additionally, as a not-so-small floating city, the Ford-class of carriers have been designed with new quality-of-life enhancements that include improved berthing compartments, better and more well-equipped gyms and fitness centers and more ergonomic workspaces.
Working Out A Few Bugs
New electronic elevators were also specifically engineered and built for the Ford-class and these were intended to massively step up the pace and strength of the carrier air attack. However, the elevators haven’t performed as promised and it could until late next year or even into 2022 before the elevators are finished.
Additionally, the Ford has continued to deal with a pluming issue related to its toilet system, and it has reportedly cost $400,000 to unclog the system. The new class of carrier was also designed to address the fact that more women serve on navy vessels. As a result, USS Gerald R. Ford became the first aircraft carrier not to feature urinals in the gender-neutral bathrooms on the ship. The Navy’s decision was to increase flexibility when it comes to shifting berthing arrangements for the crew, but critics have noted a number of issues—from the fact that fewer than 18 percent of all the sailors in the Navy are women, and each toilet takes up more precious space than wall-mounted urinals.
Another issue has been with the ship’s new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) underperformed due to a fault in the power supply system. EMALS was developed to replace the steam catapult system that has been used on the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers. The fault in the electrical system curtailed flight operations on the ship for several days during its sea trials in July 2020 while the crew along with contractors worked to identify the issue.
However, these and other issues should all be sorted out in time for the vessel’s 2024 deployment—and then it can be finally determined if that $12 billion was well spent or not!
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.