The United States Navy’s new-generation ‘supercarrier’ – its first all-new carrier in over four decades - has, at long last, headed out to begin its sea trials.
Delayed by numerous technological ‘challenges’, the USS Gerald R Ford is now ever-closer to entering frontline US Navy service. The Ford-class carriers’ lead member, the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78) has been in development for well over a decade.
Initial contract award occurred in May 2004. This was followed by August 2005’s first steel cutting and the laying of its keel in November 2009. Flotation stage was reached in October 2013. The next milestone was passed the next month, when President Ford’s daughter, Susan, officially named the supercarrier.
Ford Sea Trials
The USS Gerald R Ford’s initial US Navy join date was set to be 2014 but then came a run of issues involving its nuclear reactors – which are brand new designs – and its electrical power installation, to name but two areas. The carrier’s delivery date was therefore altered several times.
Latest scheduling sees what are known as ‘BSTs’ (Builders Sea Trials) being performed this month and the US Navy then taking delivery of the ship, to start its own trials programme, by 1 May. Builders Sea Trials (BSTs) are initial assessments of how new vessels fare on the waves. They involve both structural and systemic tests.
Gerald R Ford Carrier
The US Navy’s first wholly-3D computer-designed carrier, the Gerald R Ford is also its most electrified yet. Its most innovative features include EMALS – the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System built by General Atomics.
Deploying with some 70 aircraft onboard including a centralised Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II wing, the carrier will be the US Navy’s centrepiece. When a crisis response is needed or a significant new combat operation’s launched, the Gerald R Ford will lead the way. Armed with RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow and RIM-116 Rolling Airframe missiles, it’ll cruise the seas at speeds of 30+ knots.
“The Navy and our industry partners are excited to have the future USS Gerald R Ford underway under her own power for the first time, executing a rigorous and comprehensive test program for this first-of-class ship”, commented Program Executive Office (PEO) Aircraft Carriers commander, Rear Admiral Brian Antonio. "This milestone is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication, and we look forward to learning a great deal during sea trials. We will continue to work together to deliver Ford's critical capabilities to the fleet.”
USS Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier images copyright/courtesy US Navy