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USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) Nuclear-Powered Supercarrier (2015)

Authored By Dan Alex and JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Updated: 11/11/2013

The supercarrier USS Gerald Ford is expected to join ranks of the United States Navy sometime in 2015.

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The USS Gerald Ford is the newest, full-sized aircraft carrier to be contracted by the United States Navy (USN) and represents a "next-generation" carrier with advanced facilities to make her one of the most powerful warships on the high seas. As the first ship-of-the-class, the ship takes on the class name itself and is recognized as the "lead" ship of the group (should there be more vessels added in the future). The Ford is expected to be commissioned sometime in 2015 and completed a majority of primary construction in November of 2013. A further nine vessels of the class are envisioned in all. The Gerald Ford-class is the first US carrier design in 40 years.

Upon entering formal service, the Ford is expected to replace the aged USS Enterprise (CVN-65) carrier - the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier anywhere in the world. The Enterprise herself was commissioned in 1961 with six of her class having been planned and, as fate would have it, became the one vessel of the class to be completed. Upon her retirement, she will end some 54 years of active service with the USN. Newport News Shipbuilding (Northrop Grumman) became the contracting activity for the USS Gerald Ford's construction in July of 2003 with follow up contracts granted in 2004 and 2008 with the project ranging in the billions of dollars (the Ford alone is tagged at an estimated $11.5 billion). Her keel was laid down on November 13th, 2009. The USS Gerald Ford was afforded her namesake after former US President Gerald Ford, who passed away in 2006. Mr. Ford served with the US Navy during World War 2 as an officer on the aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL-26).

Outwardly, the Gerald Ford-class of ships will sport a design look akin to the existing Nimitz-class aircraft carriers with a few notable exceptions. The flight deck will make up most of the ship's surface area and there will still be four launch positions (two at the bow and two at the portside amidships). The angled retrieval deck will also be retained, running from the stern to the portside. However, the key difference in the Gerald Ford-class will be the relocation of the island superstructure to a more aft position along the starboard side. This will result in the relocation of the aft starboard side hangar elevator closer to amidships. This hanger will be further joined by a second starboard side hangar elevator as well as a single portside hangar elevator (Nimitz-class carriers make use of four such hangars - three to starboard and one to port). The new configuration is said to make for higher mission turnaround than in previous American carriers based on decades of operational experience. In all, the class will be able to consistently launch at least two aircraft simultaneously while retrieving one during full combat operations. The hull will follow traditional design contouring though a greater emphasis will be placed on making the vessel more "stealthy" - this initiative consistent with other new-generation US Navy warships such as the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) advanced destroyer. Her displacement will be in the range of 100,000 to 112,000 tons when completed and promote an overall running length of 1,092 feet with a beam equal to 134 feet.

The flight deck is constructed with the island (or flight command center) some 140 farther aft and three feet outboard, shorter and 20 feet taller than previous American carrier designs. This new design allows the Ford-class carrier to have a 25% increase in flight missions per day compared with the previous Nimitz class carriers - and this also with fewer crew members. The ship has required 10 million feet of electric cable and 4 million feet of fiber optic cable. To support the crew and ship's needs she has the capacity to produce 400,000 gallons of fresh water daily and the kitchen can supply 15,000 meals a day.

The conventional steam catapults used for launching aircraft found on other American carriers will give way to a new General Atomics-developed "Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System" (EMALS) that relies on a linear drive motor to achieve maximum acceleration. EMALS will promote lower maintenance requirements and lower stress levels - the latter on aircraft and flight deck alike. On the other side of the flight deck, arrestor gear technology (AAG = Advanced Arrestor Gear) used to "reel in" incoming aircraft will be further improved upon over that of current level technology. The Ford-class will also make use of additional facilities that will overtake traditional crew roles, thusly reducing the number of specialized personnel required on board. Her total crew is expected to top 4,660 personnel including the required air wing. Comparatively, the Nimitz-class of fighting ships requires some 5,600 personnel to manage her various facilities and accompanying air wing.

Power will be derived from a pairing of new-generation A1B nuclear reactors produced by Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corporation. These will be replacing the current-generation A4W nuclear reactor series that have powered the preceding Nimitz-class of ships to this point. Output of the A1B is not known at this time though the vessel is expected to reach top speeds of over 30 knots in ideal conditions. As the powerplant will be nuclear-fueled in nature (hence its "CVN" designator), the range of the USS Gerald Ford will be essentially unlimited, capable of reaching any part of the world containing a connected body of water that allows her draught. The powerplants will hold a service life of approximately 20 to 25 years.

Defense will be provided by a modest network of improved RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles, a Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) suite, digital Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) as well as the AN/SPY-3 radar suite and active search and tracking features. Communications, search and tracking will be maintained through a composite mast atop the island. However, the vessel will still rely on its extensive support fleet for both ranged and point defense against enemy aircraft, missiles, surface threats and undersurface threats.

The heart and soul of the USS Gerald Ford will naturally be its air wing of modernized and advanced fighters and strike aircraft as well as support for specialty aircraft, transports and helicopters. The USS Gerald Ford will be home to 75 such aircraft during its deployment and will more than likely make use of the new Lockheed F-35 Lightning II series (F-35C) of aircraft once it reached operational status. For the foreseeable future, the stable will most likely include the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet aircraft as the primary strike/interception arm.

Should the USS Gerald Fold reaching commissioning without delays or incident, it will become the most powerful surface vessel in the US Navy inventory and supply the USN with a fighting arm like no other. The vessel will be able to respond to any part of the world and unleash its air arm on America's enemies as carrier groups of the USN have done so effectively in the past. Her commissioning date, home port and fighting motto have yet to be announced (2012).

A second ship in the class - the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) - is expected to be commissioned sometime in 2019.

Update November 2013: On November 9, 2013the Navy christened its newest aircraft carrier the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) at the Newport News Shipbuilding facility in Norfolk, Va. Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations in charge of the ceremony was accompanied by the ships sponsor, President Ford's daughter, Susan Bales Ford. Ms. Ford performed the ceremonial by breaking a special magnum bottle of Founder's beer against the ship's bow on Saturday morning. Before the christening Ms. Ford was given the opportunity to make welds on the ship and work on different ship systems giving a family personal touch to the construction process.

The USS Ford will be operational in 2016 when Captain John Meier takes command. Captain Meier indicated at the christening ceremony, "The Ford is the lead ship in the Navy's next class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers; she is truly a technological marvel."

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Specifications for the
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)
Nuclear-Powered Supercarrier


Country of Origin: United States
Initial Year of Service: 2015
Operators: United States


Crew: 4,660


Length: 1106ft (337.11m)
Beam: 252ft (76.81m)
Draught: 0ft (0.00m)
Displacement: 112,000tons


Machinery: 2 x A1B nuclear reactors with unknown output.

Surface Speed: 30kts (35mph)
Range: Essentially Unlimited


Armament:
2 x RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) medium-range anti-aircraft missile launchers.
2 x RIM-116 RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) short-range anti-aircraft missile launchers.
2 x 20mm Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapon Systems)
4 x 12.7mm Browning M2 heavy machine guns


Air Arm: At least 75 aircraft of various makes and models including both fixed- and rotary-wing types.


Ship Class: Ford-class
Number-in-Class: 3
Ships-in-Class: USS Gerald Ford (CVN-78); USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79); USS Enterprise (CVN-80)