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Gerald R. Ford: The U.S. Navy’s Largest Aircraft Carrier Ever Is Ready for Action

U.S. Navy China
221013-N-LK647-1031 ATLANTIC OCEAN—A view of the first-in-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) from aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) as Normandy participates in a Tactical Force Exercise as part of the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group, Oct. 13, 2022. Ford is on its inaugural deployment conducting training and operations alongside NATO Allies and partners to enhance integration for future operations and demonstrate the U.S. Navy’s commitment to a peaceful, stable and conflict-free Atlantic region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Malachi Lakey)

After Years of Delays, Aircraft Carrier USS Gerald R. Ford Is Ready For Action – After years of setbacks, multiple delays, and most notably cost overruns, the United States Navy’s newest and largest aircraft carrier proved that good things come to those who wait. The $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), lead vessel in a new class of ten planned flattops, finally embarked upon her first – albeit abridged – inaugural deployment.

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The first-in-class aircraft carrier, also the flagship of the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group (GRFCSG), returned to Naval Station Norfolk on November 26, 2022, after conducting exercises and port visits with Allies and partners.

Gerald R. Ford: Hitting the Waves

CVN-78 set sail from Norfolk, Virginia on October 4, 2022, and during her maiden deployment traveled more than 9,275 nautical miles with GRFCSG. USS Gerald R. Ford operated with eight Allies and partners, including Canada, Denmark, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden, to strengthen interoperability, while conducting a range of maritime operations and exercises.

“This deployment brought together an incredible group of Allies and partners with one single focus – to contribute to a peaceful, stable, and conflict-free Atlantic region through our combined naval power,” said Vice Adm. Dan Dwyer, commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet and Joint Force Command Norfolk last year after the carrier returned to Norfolk. “Opportunities to interoperate and integrate make our nations, our navies, and the NATO Alliance stronger.”

While deployed last year, GRFCSG participated in Exercise Silent Wolverine, where the carrier demonstrated high-end naval warfare and integrated NATO interoperability in the maritime approaches to Europe. The Exercise Silent Wolverine was also an opportunity for USS Gerald R. Ford’s crew to train and test the carrier’s capabilities while demonstrating the U.S. commitment to Allies and partners through seamless integration.

“We sailed with our Allies and partners and trained together, tirelessly, day and night, and we are stronger for it,” said Capt. Paul Lanzilotta, Ford’s commanding officer. “Through integrated and combined operations such as live and inert ordnance expenditure by Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and air defense, we set the stage for operating with Ford-class technologies in a deployed environment. We completed more than 1,250 sorties, expended 78.3 tons of ordnance, and completed 13 underway replenishments – and we accomplished this because of what Ford-class aircraft carriers bring to the fight.”

Working Out the Bugs

CVN-78 had a lot to prove. As the largest warship ever constructed in terms of displacement, USS Gerald R. Ford is an impressive vessel that will serve as a symbol of power projection throughout the world for decades to come. Yet, even as she is loaded with new and innovative technologies, there have remained issues with numerous systems that didn’t exactly work as planned. From the ship’s toilets, which regularly clog, to the ordnance elevators that didn’t function properly during the sea trials, numerous systems have had serious teething issues that have needed to be resolved.

Even before her actual maiden deployment last year, CVN-78 had spent 250 to 300 days, equal to about two deployments, to address the issues. That included the completion of training and certifications. It now appears most of the bugs have been worked out – and this will ensure that similar problems won’t be an issue for future carriers of the Ford-class.

Ready For Action

Larger in size than the Nimitz-class carriers, USS Gerald R. Ford can operate with a smaller crew thanks to a greater emphasis on automation. 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 carrier’s basic mission will remain largely unchanged. 

Still, 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. The flattop 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. In addition, 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 carrier is also the first to be equipped with the Electromagnetic Launching System (EMALS), which will be utilized with all future U.S. Navy carriers. It replaced the traditional steam catapults for launching aircraft and can provide more accurate end-speed control, with a smoother acceleration at both high and low speeds. 

It can launch a range of aircraft from small unmanned drones to heavy strike fighters. It also allows for a higher sortie rate of upward 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 and smaller island. Additionally, there are three rather than four deck-edge elevators, while deck extensions have increased the aircraft parking areas.

Gerald R. Ford

USS Gerald R. Ford

USS Gerald R. Ford. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Though CVN-78’s maiden deployment was shorter than most, it proved this is a fighting ship that is ready for action – and more importantly ready for a full-length deployment this year.

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Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jacksonian Libertarian

    February 6, 2023 at 3:05 pm

    When gaming a war in the China Sea, the Carrier Strike Groups are always destroyed in short order. Given the lack of survivability in a war with China, the Industrial Age surface warship is obsolete for use against near-peer enemies.

    Given this fact, at least 1/2 of the surface warships should be mothballed or sold to allies. And replaced with 100-200 small (1k-2k ton) AIP subs, and thousands of cheap, long range, attritable, UAV’s.

    The Gerald R. Ford is no doubt the best aircraft carrier ever built, it is also an obsolete platform that even with $20 billion in defending ships, subs, and planes, can’t survive Information Age smart weapons. It seems deceptive to call it a “strike” group when 90% of it’s hulls and weapons are defensive in nature. A more descriptive name would be the Smart Weapon Magnet, or the Sitting Duck.

    If a good offense is the best defense (it is), then at some point spending resources defending weapons that are supposed to be attacking, is a stupid waste. And when better alternatives are available, it is malfeasance at best. Who will be held responsible for all the Americans that die in destroyed surface ships, when they could have been safely fighting and winning the battles by remote control?

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