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Ford: America’s Largest Aircraft Carrier Ever Is Also the Most Expensive

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

As the U.S. Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford was designed to be capable in ways critical to winning a potential conflict with China.

The new class of nuclear-powered vessels will replace aging U.S. carriers on a one-for-one basis, eventually taking the place of Nimitz-class ships. 

The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group embarked on its inaugural deployment last October, sailing throughout the Atlantic and operating successfully with numerous U.S. allies and partners.

The commander of the U.S. 2nd Fleet and Joint Force Command in Norfolk emphasized that the carrier’s first 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.” 

Origins of the Gerald R. Ford-class Carriers

The U.S. fleet of Nimitz-class carriers anchors an American power-projection strategy that was first commissioned nearly five decades ago.

These carriers have many attributes, including the ability to cruise without resupply for 90 days and strike targets from hundreds of miles away, but they are also burdened with constraints that led the Navy to seek out a more modern design. 

The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) includes innovations that should elevate America’s sea-based deterrent.

With its newer technology, the carrier can sail with a smaller crew. It also requires less maintenance. Structurally, the Ford class will measure in at roughly 1,100 feet long, with a beam width of over 250 feet and a displacement of 100,000 tons. The new carriers will sail at a max speed of around 35 miles per hour. 

What Makes Them More Advanced?

Perhaps the Ford-class’s greatest capability is that it can carry more than 90 of the Navy’s most formidable airframes, including the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare fighter, and the F/A-18E Super Hornet jet.

The Marine Corps’ own variant of the F-35, which sports Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing abilities, will also be able to land on the new carriers. 

Notably, the USS Gerald R. Ford will possess the Electromagnetic Launching System, or EMALS.

According to National Defense Magazine, “The electromagnetic launching and arresting systems have wider tolerances than the mechanical systems,” which is “essential for launching smaller and lighter aircraft like unmanned systems needed in a high-end fight.” A spokesman for the 2nd Fleet added that the EMALS system “improves takeoff speed while reducing wear on aircraft and reduces cost for maintenance and support. It also reduces personnel required to operate by one-third and allows for quieter and cooler working and living spaces for sailors.”

The Gerald R. Ford’s maiden deployment indicates that the Navy’s new aircraft carrier is finally ready for a full-length deployment.

The second ship of the incoming class, the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), will likely hit the waters as soon as 2024.

Author Expertise and Experience

Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

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Written By

Kris Osborn is the Military Editor of 19 FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.