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USS Gerald R. Ford: The Largest Navy Aircraft Carrier Ever is Without Equal

USS Gerald R. Ford. Image: Creative Commons.

Nothing Can Match the USS Gerald R. Ford – As the 38th president of the United States, Gerald R. Ford helped the nation heal after the Watergate scandal. A career politician, he was a man known for his sense of integrity and honor, and it is thus fitting that the warship named in his honor carries the motto, “Integrity at the helm.”

While there had been calls to name the future lead vessel of a new class of nuclear-powered supercarriers the USS America, in late 2006 shortly before Ford’s death, President George W. Bush signed the fiscal year 2007 (FY07) defense-spending bill to declare CVN-78 the USS Gerald R. Ford.

On January 3, 2007, then United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that the aircraft carrier would be named after the late president during the eulogy for President Ford at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. Rumsfeld had personally told the former president just weeks before his death of the naming decision.

Susan Ford Bales, the late president’s daughter, was named the ship’s sponsor.

USS Gerald R. Ford – A True Supercarrier

While other nations around the globe may have carriers, no other nation in the world has anything even close to the USS Gerald R. Ford. The nuclear-powered supercarrier entered the fleet to replace the decommissioned USS Enterprise (CVN-65), and was formally commissioned by then President Donald Trump on July 22, 2017. In his speech, Trump hailed the $12.9 billion next-generation aircraft carrier as symbolic of a new era stating, “Everyone will know that America is coming and America is coming strong.”

Today, she remains the world’s largest aircraft carrier and is also the largest warship ever constructed in terms of displacement.

CVN-78 was developed as part of the Navy’s CVN 21 program, which will consist of a planned total of 10 carriers that will replace the current Nimitz-class carriers on a one-for-one basis. Built by Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding, the carrier is 1,092 feet in length and has a beam of 134 feet while the flight deck is 256 feet wide. USS Gerald R. Ford displaces approximately 100,000 long tons and is powered by two nuclear reactors with four shafts, enabling the carrier to reach a speed in excess of 30 knots.

Larger in size than the Nimitz-class carriers, Gerald R. Ford can operate with a smaller crew thanks to a greater emphasis on automation, and the warship will also see a reduction in maintenance requirements, as well as a crew workload reduction. This will allow for improved quality of life for the crew including better berthing compartments, larger gyms and workout facilities, and even more ergonomic workspaces.

The new Ford-class carriers also employ advanced technologies including an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) along with other features that were developed to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs. In total there are 23 new or upgraded systems from the previous generation of carriers.

Powerful Air Wing

The carrier’s basic mission will remain largely unchanged, but Gerald R. Ford will be able to deliver greater lethality, survivability, and joint interoperability, along with unmatched versatility and compatibility with continuing joint-force transformation. She will be capable of carrying upwards of 90 of the United States Navy’s most advanced aircraft, and that will include the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft and MH-60R/S helicopter as well as unmanned air and combat vehicles.

Additionally, Ford will also be able to recover and launch various Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft flown by the United States Marine Corps including the F-35B Lightning II.

The new carrier will have a higher sortie rate of 160 sorties a day with surges to a maximum of 220 sorties a day in times of crisis or during intense air warfare activity. To accommodate the increase, there were design changes to the flight deck, which has a relocated smaller island. Additionally, there are three rather than four deck-edge elevators, while deck extensions have increased the aircraft parking areas. The aforementioned EMALS has replaced the traditional steam catapults for launching aircraft, while it also provides for more accurate end-speed control, with a smoother acceleration at both high and low speeds. It can be used to launch a range of aircraft from small unmanned drones to heavy strike fighters.

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Capable Warfighter

In addition to the carrier’s air wing, USS Gerald R. Ford is armed with two RIM-162 ESSM launchers, two RIM-116 RAM, three Phalanx CIWS, and four M2 .50 Cal. (12.7 mm) machine guns. All of these were used in the ship’s  CSSQT (Combat Systems Ship’s Qualification Trials).

The RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) is a medium-range, surface-to-air missile designed and manufactured by the American-based defense contractor Raytheon Missile Systems. Each missile can be launched from a quad-pack canister for the MK 41 VLS (Vertical Launching System) shipborne launching system or via a single pack for the MK 29 trainable launcher and MK 48 guided missile VLS. The RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow has an operational range of 50 km and can fly at a speed of Mach 4 – or roughly four times the speed of sound.

The carrier is also armed with the Phalanx CIWS (close-in-weapons system), which can be used to destroy incoming threats such as small boats, surface torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, and helicopters. It functions as part of an integrated, layered defense system in order to intercept closest-in threats. The Phalanx, which is currently on Navy cruisers, destroyers, aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, among other vessels, consists of one 20mm M-61A1 rotating cannon with six barrels and one search and track radar and FLIR (Forward-looking infrared) camera. The Phalanx Block can fire a 20mm sabot projectile with a tungsten penetrator with an effective firing range of 1,480 m and a maximum firing range of 5,500m.

While the USS Gerald R. Ford faced several delays in construction, the warship is set to begin her maiden deployment later in 2022. America will indeed be coming strong.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.