The USS Gerald R Ford was commissioned in November 2013

USS Gerald R Ford ‘Supercarrier’

US Navy’s Next-Generation Aircraft Carrier

Gerald R Ford-Class Supercarriers

Named after the 38th President of the United States, the Gerald R Ford-class ‘supercarriers’ are set to spearhead the United States Navy’s sea-deployed airpower in coming years.

The first all-new US Navy aircraft carrier designs since the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), leadship USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) and its brethren will have 50-year service lives. More capable and efficient than any of their predecessors, they’ll be highly protected, extensively-armed ‘floating islands’ that launch aircraft – manned and unmanned - with unprecedented speed.

As a US Navy fact sheet states: ‘Gerald R Ford class aircraft carriers and carrier strike groups will provide the core capabilities of forward presence, deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security and humanitarian assistance. The class brings improved warfighting capability, quality of life improvements for our Sailors and reduced total ownership costs.’

The USS Gerald R Ford is set to be handed over to the US Navy in early-mid 2016. It will replace the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which left frontline service in Dec 2012. Carried out by Huntington Ingalls Industries - a firm spun out of Northrop Grumman in 2011 - construction of CVN-78 is now very nearly complete. An additional pair of Gerald R Ford-class supercarriers is right now under development – a further seven may ultimately join them on the world’s oceans.

USS Gerald R Ford Construction

USS Gerald R Ford Development

The Nimitz-class supercarriers have been the US Navy’s maritime capabilities bedrock for decades but they have finite service lives: USS Nimitz itself will be fifty years old by the mid-2020s. Work on the USS Enterprise and Nimitz-class’s replacement was underway by the mid-2000s. For the first time, 3D computer design tools were used to model every single USS Gerald R Ford part. With absolutely no space wasted, this process reportedly made this ship the most efficient carrier design ever. It’s expected that as a result of this design approach, associated maintenance requirements will drop 30 per cent.

Physical construction of the USS Gerald R Ford’s parts began in early 2007. On 12 November 2009, the carrier’s keel was laid down. By May 2013, the ship was declared 100 per cent structurally complete. Five months later, on 11 October, it was launched and, the following month, it was officially named. By late 2015, the USS Gerald R Ford was almost completely finished. It’ll soon be handed-over to the US Navy, after which point it’ll face extensive sea trials before potentially then reaching IOC (initial operational capability) status and embarking on its first deployment.

USS Gerald R Ford Build

USS Gerald R Ford Features

1,106 feet (337 metres long, the USS Gerald R Ford is 134 feet (41 metres) wide at the waterline but has a 256 foot (78 metre)-wide flight deck. When at its heaviest, it displaces almost 100,000 tons of water – a weight load equivalent to that of 400 Statues of Liberty! On all fronts, this massive carrier’s statistics impress. Outside, for example, it wears no less than 200,000 gallons of Haze Grey paint – enough to cover the White House 350 times over. Across the entire ship, there are approximately 44,000 energy-efficient T-8 light bulbs in place. These light bulbs provide greater luminescence and have a longer lifespan than those used before.

Flight deck space is much increased over that of the USS Nimitz thanks to a scaled-down island positioned 140 feet (43 metres) further back and there are now three aircraft elevators – not four. These make a more efficient business of raising/lowering aircraft up from/into the hangar area. Staying inside the USS Gerald R Ford, there are an amazing 10 million feet (three-plus million metres) of cables installed that, if stretched out end-to-end, would link Washington DC and New Mexico. Also present are four million feet (1.2 million metres) of optic cables while the carrier’s general internal layout is designed to be flexible enough that it can be quickly modified for particular missions.

EMALS And AAG

The USS Gerald R. Ford makes greater use of electrical power than any preceding US Navy aircraft carrier has. Steam-powered systems of old are largely-replaced, none more so than in EMALS – its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System. Developed by General Atomics, EMALS draws on an electronic magnetic field to send aircraft spearing forwards and it was first tested in December 2010, when it powered a US Navy Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet airborne. Since then, it’s performed 450 more aircraft launches during a trials programme that’s involved examples of all fixed-wing US Navy types.

EMALS features four launchers each made up of six elements: a prime power interface, launch motor, power conversion electronics systems, energy storage and energy distribution systems and a launch control. Compared to traditional steam catapults, EMALS’ catapults weigh less, don’t show up as much on radar screens and provide greater levels of precision. The USS Gerald R Ford will be the first ship of any kind equipped with this system and it’ll also feature General Atomics’ AAG (Advanced Arresting Gear). AGG is electromagnetic aircraft landing technology with increased flexibility, safety and reliability over traditional hydraulics-based approaches. Able to bring aircraft to a complete stop within 340 feet (104 metres) in just three seconds, AAG had its initial ‘live’ test on 31 March this year and, again, an F/A-18E Super Hornet was the first aircraft to make use of it.

USS Gerald R Ford Reactors

The USS Gerald R Ford’s power comes courtesy of two purpose-built Bechtel A1B reactors. Work on these started in the late-1990s. Their output’s three times more than the USS Nimitz’s A4W reactors – 300 MW, as opposed to 100 MW. Each reactor ultimately drives a pair of bronze propellers, of which there are four in total. 21 feet (6.4 metres) wide, these propellers weigh 30 tons.

US Gerald R Ford Aircraft Carrier BadgeSailors And Aircraft

2,600 sailors will make up the USS Gerald R. Ford’s ships’ company - around 600 less than crew the USS Nimitz. These will be supplemented by about 2,000 more naval aviators, meaning that the carrier will typically deploy with around 4,600 people on board. The USS Nimitz, in contrast, deploys with over 1,000 more – a differential that’s predicted to produce $4bn in manpower savings across the new carrier’s projected fifty-year lifespan.

The USS Gerald R Ford has the capacity to accommodate up to 75 aircraft. Operationally, it will be loaded with Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet multirole fighters and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, Grumman C-2A Greyhound COD (carrier onboard delivery) aircraft, Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) aircraft, Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II stealth multirole fighters and Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk naval helicopters. It will also carry Northrop Grumman X-47B-type unmanned strike aircraft and, potentially, other UAVs.

USS Gerald R Ford Capabilities

The USS Gerald R Ford will have a top speed of some 35 miles per hour (56 kilometres per hour) and a technically unlimited range, though maintenance will need to be performed at regular intervals. It’s designed to be able to launch 160 sorties each day, for days on end, but could ramp up this operational tempo to a staggering 270 sorties a day in especially demanding circumstances. Even that lower sortie level represents about a 25 per cent increase on the USS Nimitz’ maximum.

The ship will be armed with RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow and RIM-116 Rolling Airframe missiles, plus the CIWS Close-in Weapon System. The RIM-162 ESSM is a medium-range RIM-7 Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile development first fielded in early 2004. Designed to engage anti-ship missiles and low-flying aircraft, it has a top speed of Mach 4-plus and a 50-plus kilometre range. The RIM-116 RAM is unique among current US Navy missiles because it rolls, in-flight, to keep itself stable. Introduced in 1992, it travels at speeds of Mach 2-plus and has a 5.6 kilometre range in its Block 1 form. The Close-In Weapon System is a computer-operated gun and radar combine that fires rounds at a rate of 2,000 per minute and can cover a 3.6 kilometre range.

Gerald R Ford-Class Carrier Future

Following its US Navy handover, the USS Gerald R Ford is presently on schedule to make its frontline operational debut in 2019. The USS John F Kennedy (CVN-79) – the second Gerald R Ford-class supercarrier – was laid down on 22 August 2015. It’ll be launched in 2018 and commissioned two years after that. By that point, work on the third Gerald R Ford-class carrier will be well underway. Named the USS Enterprise (CVN-80), after having been laid down in 2018, it’ll be launched in 2023 and commissioned in 2025.

Gerald R Ford Carrier Commissioning

Key Facts:

Role: Supercarrier
Length: 1,106 feet (337 metres)
Width:  256 feet (78 metres)
Engines: Two Bechtel A1B nuclear reactors
Maximum speed: 35 mph (56 km/h)
Maximum range: Unlimited
Crew: 2,600 personnel, plus around 2,000 aircrew
Weapons: RIM-162 ESSMs, RIM-116 RAMs, CIWS
First launched: 11 October 2013

All USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78) images copyright US Navy – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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