USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78) is the lead ship of her class of US Navy aircraft carriers. It has a length of 1,092 ft (333 m), a beam of 252 ft (77 m) at the flight deck and its displacement is about 100,000 long tons, when fully loaded. The ship is named after the 38th President of the United States Gerald Ford, whose World War II Naval service included combat duty aboard the light aircraft carrier Monterey in the Pacific theatre.
On September 10, 2008, the US Navy signed a $5.1 Billion contract with Northrop Grumman shipbuilding in News, Virginia to design and construct the aircraft carrier. The new vessel is America’s first new carrier design in over 40 years since USS Nimitz (CVM-68) entered service on May 3, 1975.
The Ford-class carriers will eventually be a phased replacement for the Nimitz-class carriers with as many as ten vessels or potentially more eventually being built. The Ford-class is designed with a host of improvements over the Nimitz-class that should significantly improve quality of life for sailors and reduce maintenance costs for the Navy. Ford also adds improved survivability measures while reducing manning and maintenance requirements.
Let’s take a look at the features and performance of the USS Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier to understand how powerful this beast is!
Power is derived from a pairing of new-generation A1B Nuclear reactors, succeeding current generation A4W nuclear reactor series that empowered the preceding Nimitz-class carriers. The reactor allows the vessel to reach maximum speeds exceeding 30 knots in ideal conditions and the nuclear nature of their design offers essentially unlimited travel range, capable of reaching any part of the world containing a connected body of water. The reactors hold a service life of approximately 20 to 25 years.
Ford-class Carriers’ Hull & Interiors
The hull design is similar to that of current Nimitz-class carriers and with the same number of decks. The island is smaller and moved further towards the aft of the ship, the island has a composite mast with planar array radars, a volume search radar operating at S-Band, and a multi-function radar at X-Band. It carries the stern facing joint precision approach and landing system which is based on the local area differential global positioning system rather than Radar.
The aircraft carrier traditionally carries the flag officer and 70 staff of the carrier battle group. The flag bridge which was previously accommodated in the carrier’s island is relocated to a lower deck in order to minimize the size of the island.
The ship’s internal configuration and the flight deck designs have significantly changed. The lower decks incorporate a flexible rapidly reconfigurable layout allowing different layouts and installation of new equipment in command, planning, and administration areas.
Defense systems onboard Gerald Ford carrier
Defense is immodest though advanced network of improved RIM-162 evolved sea sparrow surface-to-air missiles, a rolling airframe missile installation, and a digital close-in weapon system as well as an AN/SPY-3 Radar suite and active search and tracking features are present. Communication, search and tracking is managed 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 inbound enemy aircraft, missiles, surface threats, and undersea threats.
Aircraft aboard the USS Gerald R Ford
The heart and soul of the USS Gerald Ford is her air wing, comprised of modern and advanced fighters, strike aircraft, special mission aircraft, transports, and helicopters. No competing foreign design can match the air arm of the USS Gerald R. Ford by any stretch.
The carrier is capable of carrying up to 90 aircraft, including the F-35 Joint strike fighter, F/A 18-E/F super hornet, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, EA-18G Growler Electronic Attack Aircraft, MH-60R Seahawk helicopters as well as the unmanned air and combat vehicles.
The requirements for a higher sortie rate at 160 sorties a day with surges to a maximum of 220 sorties a day in times of crisis and intense air-warfare activity has led to design changes in the flight deck. The flight deck has a relocated smaller island while there are three rather than four deck edge elevators. Deck extensions also increase the aircraft parking areas. Aircraft service stations are located near the 18 refueling and rearming stops.
Replacing traditional steam catapults, the electromagnetic aircraft launch system will launch all carrier aircraft, the innovation eliminates the traditional requirements to generate and store steam, freeing up considerable area below deck. With the electromagnetic aircraft launch system, Gerald R Ford can now accomplish 25% more aircraft launches per day than the Nimitz class and requires 25% fewer crew members.
Aircraft Weapons Loading
The flow of weapons to the aircraft stops on the flight deck was upgraded to accommodate the higher sortie rates. The ship carries stores of missiles and cannon rounds for fighter aircraft, bombs and air-to-surface missiles for strike aircraft, and torpedoes and depth charges for anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Weapons’ elevators take the weapon systems from the magazines to the weapons handling and assembly areas on the two-level deck below the flight deck and express weapons elevators are installed between the handling and assembling areas on the flight deck.
The US Navy outlined a requirement for a minimum increase of 150% in the power generation capacity for the CVN-78 carrier compared with the Nimitz-class carriers. The increased power capacity is needed for the four electromagnetic aircraft launchers and for future systems such as directed energy weapons that might be feasible during the carrier’s 50-years lifespan.
In October 2008, Raytheon was contracted to supply a version of the Dual Band Radar (DBR) developed for the Zumwalt-class destroyer for installation on the Gerald R Ford. DBR combines X-Band and S-Band phased arrays.
Northrop Grumman developed an advanced nuclear propulsion system with two reactors, four shafts and a zonal electrical power distribution system for the CVN-78.
As it stands, the USS Gerald R Ford represents the most powerful surface warship in the United States Navy arsenal, able to respond to actions in any part of the world and unleash its air arm on enemies as US and carrier groups have done so effectively in past wars.
So, what do you think of the US Navy’s Ford-class carriers? Will there ever be a competitor to these floating beasts? While you think about it, here is an awesome video explaining how powerful and scary the USS Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier is!