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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

China Can’t Touch the U.S. Navy’s Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier

USS Gerald R. Ford
200604-N-QI093-1142 ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 4, 2020) The Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transit the Atlantic Ocean, June 4, 2020, marking the first time a Ford-class and a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier have operated together underway. Gerald R. Ford is underway conducting integrated air wing operations and the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group remains at sea in the Atlantic Ocean as a certified carrier strike group force ready for tasking in order to protect the crew from the risks posed by COVID-19, following their successful deployment to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ruben Reed/Released

While China made headlines last week with the launch of their newest aircraft carrier, the Fujian, they are still well behind the US in terms of aircraft carrier quantity and quality. The US Navy’s newest class of carriers, the Gerald R. Ford-class, is a massive, technologically-advanced marvel of engineering. With two dozen examples of novel technologies, the Ford program has cost a staggering $120 billion USD – with each ship costing a cool $13 billion. Both the resource investment of the Ford program and the sophistication of the design elements signals clearly that the Chinese have not caught up to the Americans with respect to aircraft carrier building.

An aircraft carrier does one thing, really: projects airpower; the aircraft carrier is just a floating, transportable airfield that can be sailed wherever, whenever a nation needs to project its airpower abroad. Accordingly, an aircraft carrier’s productivity is measured in terms of how many flights that carrier can yield, or its Sortie Generation Rate (SGR). The higher the SGR the better. The Ford-class is expected to yield a 33 percent higher SGR than its predecessor, the Nimitz-class. Able to keep aircraft jumpin’ off the deck regularly, the Ford can generate 160 sorties per day (and can even surge up to 270 when needed during wartime). The increased SGR derives mostly from the Navy’s new aircraft launch and recovery technology, especially the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and the Advanced Arresting Gear System (AAG).

On the aging Nimitz and Enterprise carriers, aircraft are launched using a steam piston catapult. The Ford, however, will feature the EMALS, which uses a linear induction motor to create magnetic fields that guide an aircraft along the launching track. In addition to being cheaper, lighter, and less finicky than the steam catapult system, the EMALS is expected to accelerate aircraft smoothly – which will put less stress on the airframes being launched. Additionally, EMALS recharges more quickly than steam catapults and can be calibrated with precise settings to allow for the launching of a wide variety of aircraft. All of the EMALS various benefits combine to boost the Ford’s SGR significantly.

As with so many groundbreaking technologies, developing EMALS was not always smooth – it took time. And money. President Donald Trump even criticized EMALS openly, in an interview with TIME magazine. Despite cost overruns, EMALS is now a completely functional, deployable system, with over 8,000 successful launches under its belt.

While EMALS will launch aircraft, the AAG will help aircraft land. The AAG is a modern arresting gear, which will replace the hydraulic arresting gears used on both the Nimitz and Enterprise. Like EMAL, AAG will allow for precise settings and hence the recovery of a wide variety of aircraft.

Despite incorporating so many expensive new technologies, the Ford was designed to cut costs in the long term. One method the Ford will use for cost-saving: decreased manpower requirements. For example, the Nimitz-class carriers required 5,000 sailors to function. Of course, employing, housing, feeding, and caring for sailors is one of an aircraft carrier’s primary expenses. By reducing the number of sailors, the Ford-class carriers will reduce the amount of costs. Requiring 1,100 fewer sailors (which have been replaced where possible with modern tech), the Ford-class will have significantly fewer personnel-related costs than the Nimitz. Indeed, between the reduced crew requirements, and what should be reduced maintenance requirements, the Ford-class carriers are projected to save $4 billion over the course of their 50-year life cycle.

The first Ford-class is already in service and performing commendably. The second Ford-class has already been launched – and two more ships are under construction. While China is clearly a nation on the rise, and the Fujian deserves respect as a leap-forward for Chinese naval tech, the Ford-class demonstrates clearly that the Americans are still the world’s preeminent aircraft carrier builders.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon, and New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.



  1. MD Anthony

    June 22, 2022 at 11:00 pm

    China has sufficient space based orbital missiles that can take out any and all all of Americas Aircraft carriers, Britains carriers, Frances Carriers

    • Chinaisajoke

      June 25, 2022 at 8:55 am

      Wrong. China’s Wish version of military equipment is a joke not to mention lacking in experience.

    • Chinaiswishlevelgarbage

      June 25, 2022 at 8:59 am

      Those things won’t function plus you really think that the US doesn’t already have an answer for that even if it did work? ? Go back to chichichina commie

  2. David rodriguez

    June 23, 2022 at 12:03 am

    La noticia en si no es la botadura de un nuevo portaaviones chino, sino el rápido ascenso como potencia naval. Por supuesto es inferior en características y capacidades pero hay que verlo como que hace 15 años está noticia hubiese sido impensable y ahora es algo normal. Donde estará la marina china dentro de 20 años? Dominando el Pacífico o en el fondo del océano…. quién sabe…

  3. Wahid Khan

    June 23, 2022 at 1:27 am


  4. Jayden

    June 23, 2022 at 12:06 pm

    You don’t need Aircraft Carriers to take out Aircraft carriers. Submarine launched hypersonic missiles would do the job perfectly. Only downside is that we find out things are obsolete only during war itself.

  5. George Torres

    June 23, 2022 at 4:24 pm

    The US NAVY has much more expertise than China on carrier operations, earned thru experience. All it’s a sure thing that I’m an all-out sea battle the US NAVY will prevail because of that SRG and American spirit to risk for victory. I doubt China would expose its carriers, the way Argentina did in the Falklands’ war.

  6. Ahmed Alam Khan

    June 23, 2022 at 5:03 pm

    Ford has had many operational issues. Chainas newest carrier has the same electromagnetic catapult system. The article fails to mention any commendable features it has over Chinese newest carrier(dollars spebt don’t necessarily mean more). The only advantage the US has over China is experience. Carriers are becoming an obsolete force.

  7. Billy Tay

    June 23, 2022 at 8:56 pm

    For all the money US spent she can’t even protect her school children.

  8. Andrew

    June 23, 2022 at 11:51 pm

    Carriers make sense for China. They can project force and intimidate anyone that is not a strong- eg South American and African countries, South Pacific and South East Asian countries. Just like the US used carriers against Iraq, Afghanistan. Obviously they are not for direct confrontation with the US…not yet.

    As for comparison with the Ford, the Ford is still not truly war worthy. Every elevator is jury rigged, which means they can’t be repaired easily during war. And if the mechani or engineer wh repaired the specific elevator dies or is out of action, that elevator is useless. As for EMALS, it is far, far from having the sortie rate and reliability and rate of steam powered catapaults.

    China is behind is experience, but it is slowly catching up. Unless the USA attacks China, China will keep building and eventually have who knows how many carriers, in 20-30 year’s time. They seem to build them quite quickly, and they do not seem to be stopping, with 10-20 ships coming off the production lines every year. Given the LCS is not functional, and the Tico’s and subs are being retired, China’s navy will outnumber the US’s nearly 2 to 1 by 2035. China will have a big enough force to counter both Japan and the US directly off the Chinese mainland, while sending carrier task forces off to South America, Africa, Australia/New Zealand….imagine Australia was forced to divide it’s air force between 2 or 3 carrier task forces on opposite sides of the Continent…. The US could help Japan/Taiwan, or Australia, but not both.

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