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The Navy’s New Aircraft Carrier is the Largest Warship Ever (With Big Problems)

USS Gerald R. Ford Problems
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (April 8, 2017) - Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) Sailors man the rails as the ship departs Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding for builder’s sea trials off the coast. The first- of-class ship—the first new U.S. aircraft carrier design in 40 years—will spend several days conducting builder’s sea trials, a comprehensive test of many of the ship’s key systems and technologies. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Christopher Delano)

Named after the 38th President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford, the USS Gerald R. Ford is the first of its class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers of the same name. The entire class is to number ten hulls in total and will ultimately replace the previous Nimitz-class carriers.

The class of supercarrier will feature a number of records: the largest warship ever built, the world’s largest aircraft carrier — but also the most expensive naval ship ever built.

Compared to its Nimitz-class predecessor, the Fords are to feature a number of improvements. One of the most prominent of these improvements is the class’ aircraft launch system: rather than retaining the steam catapults traditionally used to launch aircraft from carrier decks, the Gerald R. Ford-class will feature a new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System.

Compared to steam catapults, the new EMALS system does not rely on steam power, freeing up below deck space that would otherwise be needed to store freshwater. Additionally, and EMALS system does not require energy-intensive desalination and pulls aircraft more smoothly than a steam system, reducing airframe wear and tear.

Lots of Money, Lots of Problems

The class has run into a number of unexpected problems and deficiencies during its development, however. First, the new EMALS system has proven to be significantly less reliable than traditional steam catapults. In addition, it was found that the wastewater piping system is too narrow to adequately handle crew waste, necessitating an expensive acidic flush to clear clogs.

Some of the Ford’s weapon elevators, used to move munitions from the bowels of the ship to the deck, are currently not certified and therefore inoperable. Perhaps most significantly, the Ford is not certified to land the F-35C, the airplane that is to form the backbone of U.S. Navy aviation.

More recently, the Gerald R. Ford underwent explosive shock trials in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. The test, which 40,000 pounds of explosive ordinance, simulated battle conditions and evaluated how the Gerald R. Ford’s hull would respond to nearby explosions.

The explosion registered as a 3.9 magnitude earthquake by the U.S. Geological Survey. A video of the explosion from multiple angles can be seen here and is well worth the watch.

As a way to cut costs on an increasingly expensive ship, the Navy had planned on not conduction the explosive trials before the Ford began operational deployments, though congressional backlash ensured that the trials went forward. However, though the Ford was originally scheduled for three pre-deployment shock tests, it is possible that just two will ultimately be conducted.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. MIC

    June 22, 2021 at 3:55 pm

    Imagine this money being spent on education, infrastructure, or even improving the situation at the southern border. I’d rather see tuition forgiveness than 9 more hulks of the military industrial complex that will eventually become redundant. Cyber warfare is beating the US. Rome is falling.

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