The "new look" United States Navy is planning on procuring three of the new Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear-powered "supercarriers" to succeed the powerful, though aging, Nimitz-class vessels currently in service. The John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) is the second ship of the three-strong Gerald R. Ford-class led by the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) itself with the USS Enterprise (CVN-80) following (currently in the planning stages). The JFK has entered its construction phase headed by Huntington Ingalls Industries (formerly known as Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding) and is expected to be commissioned sometime in 2020 (or later). The JFK is named after John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), the 35th President of the United States, a veteran of World War 2 though largely remembered for his assassination at the hands of gunman Lee Harvey Oswald in November of 1963. The USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) is the second USN ship to carry the JFK name and the third to carry the Kennedy surname overall. The first such vessel became the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) aircraft carrier of the preceding, one-strong, JFK-class. The CVN-79 had her keel laid down through a ceremony on February 25th, 2011.
As proposed, the JFK will be powered by 2 x A1B (A = "Aircraft Carrier", "1" = 1st Generation, "B" = Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corporation) nuclear reactors which will provide for a straight line speed of approximately 30 knots in ideal conditions - exceptionally fast considering a vessel of this size. Use of nuclear power (a US Navy staple when compared to competing global carrier designs elsewhere) feature essentially unlimited operational ranges and are theoretically only restricted by the lifespan of the reactor itself which can span several decades (20 to 25 years possible before replacement is required). Compared to the previous A4W nuclear reactor series in use on the Nimitz-class, the A1B models sport a smaller profile, simplified construction and provides up to three times the energy output. This sort of propulsion allows the United States Navy to be called to any point in the world making America's Navy the most powerful on the globe.
Structurally, the JFK will follow suit with the original USS Gerald R. Ford and displace a listed 100,000 tons. Its running length will be 1,106 feet with a beam (length) measuring 134 feet and draught (height) of 39 feet. Like previous USN carrier offerings, the JFK will be given a primarily flat deck surface with only an island superstructure fitted to the starboard side. However, in the new configuration, the island superstructure will reside well-aft of midships, clearing the mid and frontal deck space for aircraft actions (newer European carriers are featuring twin island superstructures, a second tower to specifically handle aircraft management). Four Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapults will be used in place of the traditional steam systems to launch up to four aircraft simultaneously (though the portside two catapults intersect one another and require a slight delay in launching one aircraft over the other). Two catapults will be featured at the bow with the remaining two at portside. Retrieval will be via a conventional angled return deck area with "advanced" arrestor hooks in place (requiring the incoming aircraft to feature an arrestor hook). The flight deck will be serviced by three main hangar elevators - two fitted along starboard and one along port - which will provide access to full-service hangars below including maintenance, repair, fuel and munitions. Up to 90 navalized aircraft (though typically 75) of various types (fixed-wing, rotary-wing, UAVs/UCAVs) will be supported at any one time. The complete deck surface area measures 1,092x256 feet which allows many different aircraft types to be used. Like other modern surface warships, the Kennedy will also feature radar reduction measures, either through special coatings or enclosed structures, to help minimize its profile to enemy tracking systems.
The entire CVN-79 crew complement will number a maximum of 4,660 personnel typically made up of 500 officers, 3,790 enlisted and other security and special persons (based on the latest published specifications).
While the offensive reach of the JFK supercarrier will primarily be its air wing, the vessel will also be granted use of defensive-minded weaponry to counter incoming aerial threats (aircraft, cruise missiles and otherwise) that manage to get through the entire USN fleet carrier group defense network. This includes use of 2 x RIM-162 ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow) medium-ranged surface-to-air missile launchers or 2 x RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) infrared homing, surface-to-air launchers. Close-in defense will be provided by 2 x 20mm Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWSs) and 4 x 12.7mm Browning M2 heavy machine guns (or similar).
CVN-79 will be outfitted with the latest in USN-approved sensor and processing systems. The AN/SPY-3 Dual-Band Radar (DBR) system originally developed for the upcoming Zumwalt-class destroyer will be featured as will full 3D tracking and combat control suites, GPS support, encrypted data links and systems automation. All told, it is presumed that the new arrangement will make the Kennedy a highly-efficient and ultra-modern fighting surface vessel with no comparable design outside of the USN.
The Kennedy was initially scheduled for commissioning in 2018 until delayed in a 2009 review for a 2020 commissioning. However, this target year has also been under discussion with the commissioning expected to be pushed back to sometime in 2022. It is suspected that the Gerald R. Ford-class will replace several of the older existing Nimitz-class fleet depending on the US Naval budget/doctrine of the time. Before the Kennedy name was selected, the CVN-79 was at one point destined to carry the names of USS Arizona and, later, USS Barry M. Goldwater.