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5 Reasons the Navy’s Ford-Class Aircraft Carriers Are a Game Changer

Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier Artist Rendering. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Meet the Ford-Class: The US Navy is looking to the future, to potential open water conflict with China, and replacing the outdated Enterprise and Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. To replace the older carriers, the Navy has developed the most expensive warship ever built: The Gerald R. Ford-class. Each individual ship in the Ford class has a remarkable price tag: $13 billion per unit. But that’s nothing compared to the overall program cost; the program, which incorporates dozens of brand-new technology features, has cost over $120 billion.

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The program cost was initially estimated to be about $77 billion – but obviously that didn’t stick; the price just kept going up. In theory, the Ford’s unprecedented sticker price will be an investment in exceptional performance and long-term cost cutting.

Let’s consider the Ford’s top five most notable features.

Sortie Generation Rate (SGR)

An aircraft carrier serves a pretty simple purpose: off-shore airpower projection. Essentially, an aircraft carrier is a floating, movable airfield that can be parked wherever, whenever.  Accordingly, an aircraft carrier’s effectiveness relates to how many flights originate from the aircraft carrier. The Navy even has a metric to measure exactly how many flights are produced on their carriers: Sortie Generation Rate (SGR). The Ford-class is expected to produce a 33 percent increase in SGR over the Nimitz-class; the Ford should produce 160 sorties per day (with the latent ability to hit 270 in wartime). The SGR increase is owed mostly to the Ford’s new launch and recovery technology, EMALS and AAG respectively.

Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS)

EMALS, or the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, will replace the traditional steam piston catapult employed upon older aircraft carriers, including the Nimitz and Enterprise carriers. EMALS uses a linear induction motor – which uses electric currents to generate magnetic fields to glide an airframe along a track. The EMALS should accelerate aircraft more smoothly than steam catapults (which should put less wear and tear on the airframes). Simultaneously, EMALS will cost less, weigh less, and require less maintenance. And as an added bonus: the move away from steam-powered pistons will reduce the Ford’s reliance on freshwater (which requires a pain-in-the-butt desalination process). The EMALS recharges more quickly than steam, so planes can be launched in quicker succession. Also, EMALS can be operated with more precise settings than steam, so the Ford can recalibrate to accommodate a wider variety of aircraft.

Advanced Arresting Gear System (AAG)

The AAG, or Advanced Arresting Gear System, will replace the MK7 hydraulic arresting gear on preceding aircraft carriers. The AAG was designed to accommodate a broader range of aircraft than the MK7, while requiring less manpower and maintenance. The AAG uses rotary engines and simple, energy-absorbing water turbines paired with a large induction motor to provide fine control of the arresting forces. The new arresting gear is a somewhat subtle improvement, relative to the EMALS, but again, the upgrade will help the Ford boost its SGR.

Manpower Reduction

The older Nimitz-class carrier was a sophisticated, byzantine weapons system – requiring a full 5,000 sailors to operate. It was basically a floating city. Feeding, housing, and paying so many people is quite expensive. So, in an effort to reduce operating costs, the new Ford-class was designed to run with automated technologies in place of sailors (where possible). The result is a significant reduction in personnel requirements; 1,100 fewer sailors will be needed to operate the Ford than the Nimitz. The 20 percent reduction in force should lead to long-term cost saving.

Maintenance Reduction

The Ford has been designed to require less maintenance than its predecessors. Accordingly, the reactors were designed with a simpler format. The radar systems were designed to be less temperamental. The EMALS and AAG were designed to require less maintenance than the preceding steam catapults and MK7 arresting gears. In all, the Ford should require significantly less maintenance over the course of its 50-year service life. Estimates hold that the Ford will save $4 billion in service costs during its half century at sea.

While the Ford’s costs are monumental – the carrier will, without question, be the most sophisticated boat in the sea for decades to come.


From 2017 – The aircraft carrier Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) pulls into Naval Station Norfolk for the first time. The first-of-class ship – the first new U.S. aircraft carrier design in 40 years – spent several days conducting builder’s sea trails, a comprehensive test of many of the ship’s key systems and technologies. (U.S. Navy photo by Matt Hildreth courtesy of Huntington Ingalls Industries/Released)

Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier

Ford-Class. Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier USS Ford.

Aircraft Carrier USS Nimitz

(Mar. 12, 2022) Sailors aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68) assemble on the flight deck and form a human ‘100’ to commemorate the centennial of the aircraft carrier. On March 20, 1922 the former USS Jupiter (Collier #3) recommissioned as the USS Langley (CV 1), the U. S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier. One hundred years later, Nimitz and Ford-class aircraft carriers are the cornerstone of the Navy’s ability to maintain sea control and project power ashore. Nimitz is the first in its class and the oldest commissioned aircraft carrier afloat., carrying with it a legacy of innovation, evolution and dominance. Nimitz is underway in the 3rd Fleet Area of Operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt)

Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier

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).

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 holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from 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. H.R. Holm

    December 23, 2022 at 3:06 pm

    Classic textbook military-naval application of the bigger they are, the harder (or easier?) they fall. And a carrier does not have to sink in order to fall into operational ineffectiveness. Not in the age of conventional or hypersonic carrier-killer missiles. Especially if a wave or two of decoys comes in first.

  2. 403Forbidden

    December 23, 2022 at 3:19 pm

    Aircraft carriers are derelict technology.

    A (sustained) salvo of missiles will send even the best carrier to davy jones locker in a day.

    Nations build carriers out of plans or dreams driven by hubris or a burning urge to overthrow foreign governments.

    Or in the case of uncle sam, money supply to the war dept and/or navy presents no obstacle or impedement.

    Carriers encourage or compel rival nations to fast-track all types of missile development and deployment. While carriers are restricted or limited to sailing the seas, missiles roar and fill all domains of conflict, from land to air, sea and space.

  3. Defense Man

    December 24, 2022 at 1:02 am

    Silly remarks by uninformed posters who don’t understand modern warfare technologies.

  4. Rubicon Cross

    December 24, 2022 at 5:49 am

    Thats all well and good. However, what has the Navy done with their tens of billions to stop a handful of Chinese million dollar missiles, specifically designed to sink our Carriers?

  5. Steven

    December 24, 2022 at 7:29 am

    Another stupid article. How many articles haVE THEIR BEEN LIKE THIS IN THE LAST 5 YEARS? pATHETIC. Write something original.

  6. Neal

    December 24, 2022 at 10:18 am

    Gen.Petraeus said “the bigger the structure, the bigger the bullseye.” Furthermore,all those assets grouped together jist protecting that big juicy bullseye. Imagine if they were upgraded to be more autonomous surface and subsurface warfighters. More area would be staked out. It would be bringing asynchronous warfare to and from the “water-top”. Finally, with the introduction of hypersonic aircraft. The factors of speed, distance and time will become miniscule on this planet. Summary, aircraft carriers can only be used to goad other nations into spending on useless tech…

  7. Htos1av

    December 24, 2022 at 12:52 pm

    ONLY a nuke equipped torpedo can even dent it, soooo….

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