The US' $13.3 billion aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford is finally ready for action

After 13 years of construction.
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Bow view of USS Gerald R. Ford.US Navy/Wikimedia

After 14 years of development and delays, the most expensive and often troubled next-generation aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is finally ready for deployment. The aircraft carrier cost $13.3 billion in total, and was approved by the U.S. Navy in late 2021.

Initially, the aircraft carrier was expected to be deployed in 2017, eight years after the construction began in 2009, which is more than the usual aircraft carrier building timeframe of five years. But the difficulties in the development process and a series of delays due to reliability problems with multiple new technologies caused a five-year delay over the already longer than usual building timeframe.

“Readiness of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is the Navy’s top priority, and the progress the team made during the Post Shakedown Availability (PSA) met requirements while the subsequent eight months of CVN 78’s post-delivery test and trials (PDT&T) period has been impressively ahead of plan. Even in the face of a global pandemic, the team has kept a lightning pace, and we will continue to do so, for our Navy and our nation, until USS Gerald R. Ford completes her post-delivery obligations and is fully available and ready for tasking by the Fleet,” NAVSEA spokesman Rory O’Connor told USNI News, back in July 2020. 

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He estimated that PDT&T would be completed in 10 months, followed by full-ship shock trials in 2021, and added, “We must ensure that the team takes the opportunity to recharge and allow for fresh eyes on upcoming challenges as required. While there is no perfect time for leadership transitions, it is prudent to bring in renewed energy now to lead the CVN 78 team through the challenges ahead. Capt. Metcalf’s proven program management acumen and extensive waterfront experience will be a tremendous asset to the CVN 78 team in the months ahead.”

Gerald R. Ford, the first of the Ford-class aircraft carriers, which will eventually replace existing Nimitz-class carriers, will integrate a whole lot of new technologies as the new generation of aircraft carriers. The aircraft carrier was designed with a novel Dual-Band Radar system, new electromagnetically-powered aircraft launch catapults, and weapons elevators; new aircraft arresting gear; and many more. The reason for all these novel features was to build a highly efficient warship capable of more aircraft sorties.

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Unfortunately, much of the new equipment ran into some serious technical problems including its propulsion system, aircraft-launching electromagnetic catapults, and the most pervasive of them; the advanced weapons elevators (AWEs) that lifted aircraft bombs and missiles to the flight deck. And it took five years to gradually solve all the problems.

A big budget means a big payload

According to the Congressional Research Service, USS Ford will carry 70+ aircraft, including 40 to 50 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, five EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, 19 MH-60 Seahawk helicopters, four E-2D Hawkeye airborne early-warning aircraft; and two MV-22B Osprey cargo transports. 

The $13.3 billion budget does not include ship protection and logistics costs to apply the aircraft carrier.

Let’s see what advantages Gerald R. Ford has over its other huge competitors.

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