Why the Aircraft Carrier USS Gerald Ford Is Such a Big Deal

June 15, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: USS Gerald FordFord-ClassAircraft CarrierU.S. NavyF-18

Why the Aircraft Carrier USS Gerald Ford Is Such a Big Deal

It is closer to being ready for war too.


The Navy is launching armed attack planes from the deck of its USS Ford carrier to prepare the new ship for major warfare on the open seas, by launching F/A-18 Super Hornets and helicopters equipped with ordnance for combat missions. 

Carrier Air Wing 8 has been operating the largest air wing embarked to date for the Ford and the ship’s first ordnance movement from a lower-deck magazine using the weapons elevators. 


The exercises used 40,000 pounds of inert, or non-explosive ordnance which was transferred through an upper stage elevator before being loaded onto an aircraft. 

“We’re thrilled to be here dropping light and heavy inert ordnance; but the biggest thing as the air wing commander is to do our primary mission: war at sea, air defense, air superiority and power projection. We’re taking [Ford] from carrier qualification to a mission that focuses on combat operations,” Capt. Josh Sager, Commander, CVW 8, said in a Navy report. 

The first-in-class USS Ford has been specifically engineered for expanded air attack, being built with a larger deck space than the Nimitz-class to enable a greater sortie rate. Navy developers explain that the Ford configuration was developed to increase the air mission rate by as much as 33-percent, with a mind to creating a new dimension of air power projection. This strategy, initiated years ago, did seem to anticipate what could be described as a modern threat environment. More air power would be needed in any kind of major-power engagement, carriers need to have an ability to operate the first-of-its kind carrier-launched F-35C stealth fighter, and perhaps of equal or greater significance, modern carriers need to have longer attack reach.

Air attack assets such as an F-35C and upgraded F/A-18 fighters will have longer reach due to the upcoming arrival of the MQ-25 carrier-launched aerial refueler. This constitutes a substantial development, as it enables a carrier air wing to hold a country at risk for ranges out to 1,000 miles or more. Should an F-35C, for instance, have a 500 mile combat radius, it may need to turn around before reaching its destination. Should Chinese DF-21 carrier killer missiles, which have a reported range of up to 900 nautical miles, force carriers to operate at greater standoff distances, an aerial refueler could ensure that the Navy sustains an air attack capability. 

CVW-8 embarked seven squadrons and is operating nearly 30 fixed-wing aircraft and both of their Helicopter Sea Combat squadrons. 

Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters