No other naval power in the world has anything even close to the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the lead ship of her class of United States Navy aircraft carriers.
- A Short History
Named after the thirty-eighth president of the United States (POTUS), Gerald Ford, the nuclear-powered carrier entered the fleet to replace the decommissioned USS Enterprise (CVN-65). Formally commissioned by then President Donald Trump on July 22, 2017, she is the world's largest aircraft carrier but also the largest warship ever constructed in terms of displacement.
The Gerald R. Ford-class was developed as part of the Navy's CVN 21 program, which will consist of a planned total of ten carriers that will replace the current carriers on a one-for-one basis.
Whilst the hulls are similar to the Nimitz-class, the new carriers employ advanced technologies including an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) along with other features that were developed to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs. In total there are twenty-three new or upgraded systems from the previous generation of carriers.
Built by Huntington Ingalls Industries' Newport News Shipbuilding, the carrier is 1,092 feet in length and has a beam of 134 feet while the flight deck is 256 feet wide. USS Gerald R. Ford displaces approximately 100,000 long tons and is powered by two nuclear reactors with four shafts, enabling the carrier to reach a speed in excess of thirty knots.
Larger in size than the Nimitz-class carriers, Gerald R. Ford can operate with a smaller crew thanks to a greater emphasis on automation, and the carrier will also see a reduction in maintenance requirements, as well as a crew workload reduction. This will allow for improved quality of life for the crew including better berthing compartments, larger gyms and workout facilities, and more ergonomic workspaces.
What the Ford Was Built For
The carrier's basic mission will remain unchanged, but Gerald R. Ford will be able to deliver greater lethality, survivability, and joint interoperability, along with unmatched versatility and compatibility with continuing joint-force transformation. She will be capable of carrying upwards of ninety of the United States Navy's most advanced aircraft, and this will include 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. Additionally, 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.
The new carrier will have a higher sortie rate 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 smaller island. Additionally, there are three rather than four deck-edge elevators, while deck extensions have increased the aircraft parking areas. The aforementioned Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) has replaced the traditional steam catapults for launching aircraft, while it also provides 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.
The carrier will also be armed with the Raytheon evolved Sea Sparrow missile (ESSM), which enable it to defend against high-speed, highly maneuverable anti-ship missiles.
USS Gerald R. Ford is currently undergoing trials and is set for her first deployment next year. While she is a few years behind schedule, the carrier will remain in service into the 2070s – or about 100 years after President Ford served in the White House.
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.