The USS Gerald R. Ford is one of the most advanced and most expensive pieces of military hardware ever built. After years of development and many delays, she was finally ready for deployment only a few months ago.
Costing somewhere in the region of $13.3 billion to build, many have argued that the money could probably have been better spent elsewhere. However, as you are about to find out, that money has bought a very tough and incredibly capable piece of kit.
Let's take a closer look at this amazing piece of floating military engineering.
What is the USS Gerald R. Ford?
The USS Gerald R. Ford, theofficial designation "Carrier, Volplane, Nuclear 78" (CVN 78), is the United States Navy's latest and most advanced aircraft carrier designed and built to replace their aging Enterprise and Nimitz classes of supercarriers. The first of her class, she is named after Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President of the United States, who served in the Navy during WWII and saw combat aboard the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey in the Pacific Theater.
The USS Gerald R. Fordwas a replacement for the then retired USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which had served for 51 years.
USS Gerald R. Ford was delivered to the Navy on May 31, 2017, and she was formally commissioned by President Donald Trump on July 22, 2017, several years after her planned delivery in 2015. It was originally slated for delivery in 2015. It is one of the world's largest aircraft carriers and the largest warship in terms of displacement as of 2017.
In a major combat operation, the Gerald R. Ford-class will be the prime forward asset for crisis response and early decisive strike power.
When compared to the Nimitz-class, each ship in the Gerald Ford-class will, according to Naval officials, save more than $4 billion in total ownership expenditures over its 50-year service life. Compared to a CVN 68-class ship, the CVN 78 class is able to operate with almost 700 fewer crew members.
The USS Gerald Ford's air wing is able to operate with less crew, too, with around 400 fewer personnel, thanks to improvements in ship design compared to its predecessors. The USS Gerald R. Ford is also the first aircraft carrier to be built entirely using electric utilities, removing the need for steam service lines, lowering maintenance costs, and increasing corrosion control.
The ship, and her class, are equipped with two upgraded A1B nuclear reactors, the so-called Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), Advanced Weapons Elevators, Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), and Dual Band Radar (DBR). These systems all provide increased capability while reducing staffing requirements for the vessel. (Although technical problems with the new equipment significantly delayed the deployment of the vessel.)
During the ship's planned 50-year service life, the ship's configuration and electrical generating plant are also designed to accept future technologies, including direct energy weapons, as and when they are deemed necessary for retrofitting.
Fascinating facts about the USS Gerald R. Ford supercarrier
So, you want to know some more about this monster of the seas? Then, warship fans, let's get stuck in, shall we?
1. How fast can the USS Gerald Ford go? Pretty fast, as it turns out
One of the standout features of the USS Gerald R. Ford-class of supercarriers is their speed. According to officially published statistics, she is capable of a top speed of around 30 knots (35mph/56kph).
To put that into perspective, some of the fastest warships currently in operation, like a modern destroyer, would just about keep up with their engines at full power. Ships that you may be more familiar with, like an ocean liner, usually cruise at around 20 knots (although many can achieve 30 knots at top speed).
Her top speed is a little slower than her predecessor, the USS Enterprise, but is even more impressive given the ship's increased size and displacement. The USS Gerald R. Ford has an official displacement of 100,000 long tons when fully laden, with the USS Enterprise coming in at around 94,781 long tons.
2. How big is the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier?
In short, she is big, very big.
She has a total length of 1,092 feet (333 meters), a beam of 134 feet (41 meters) at the waterline, a flight deck width of 356 feet (78 m), and a height of nearly 250 feet (76 meters) over 25 decks. As previously mentioned, she also displaces around 100,000 long tons.
That makes her one of, if not the largest, warships ever constructed. Even the mightiest battleships of days gone by are dwarfed by her.
Take the infamous IJN Yamato, the largest battleship to ever set sail. She was massive and carried the largest guns ever mounted on a ship but "only" weighed in at around 72,000 long tons; she was also shorter and slower.
This really does put things into perspective.
3. How many planes can the USS Gerald Ford hold?
The USS Gerald R. Ford is not only an impressive vessel in and of herself, but she really packs a lot of potential in her hangers. According to official figures, she comes equipped with around 75+ aircraft (some sources state 90).
These are a mixture of strike fighters like the Boeing F/A-18E/F "Super Hornet," the electronic warfare variant of the F-18, the EA-18G "Growler," and other support aircraft like the Grumman C-2 Greyhound, Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawk, Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, and a variety of unmanned aerial combat vehicles.
There are also plans, if not already executed, to provide the USS Gerald R. Ford with a complement of some of America's most advanced aircraft, like the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II.
4. The USS Gerald R. Ford was designed, in part, using virtual reality
One of the most interesting aspects of the USS Gerald R. Ford is the fact that virtual reality played a major part in its design.
To design and plan the construction of the Gerald R. Ford-class of aircraft carriers, Newport News Shipbuilding (a subsidiary of Huntington Ingalls Industries) employed a full-scale three-dimensional product model created in Dassault Systèmes CATIA V5.
The Gerald R. Ford class was designed with efficient weapon moving pathways in mind to essentially eliminate horizontal movement within the ship. Advanced weapons elevators were also designed to transport weapons from storage facilities to specific weapons-handling areas within the ship, which could actually be visualized in 3D during the design stage.
This allows sailors to transport weapons from storage to elevators on various floors of the weapons magazines using motorized carts. These elevators can also be repositioned, so that aircraft operations on the flight deck are not hampered. The modification of the weapons moving pathways and the placement of the weapons elevators on the flight deck will save manpower and result in a significantly greater sortie generation rate.
This makes her the first aircraft in the United States to be designed utilizing computer-aided design techniques.
Ship operations themselves will involve augmented-reality technology to give its crew more insight into the ship's systems and improve efficiency.
5. The USS Gerald R. Ford is a powerful ship even without her aircraft
These include, but are not limited to, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile launchers, RIM-116 surface-to-air missile launchers, Phalanx Close-in Weapon System (CIWS) automated 0.8-inch (20mm) Vulcan cannons, and M2 .50 caliber (12.7mm) machine guns. The Phalanx system alone is capable of autonomously detecting, targeting, and destroying a wide variety of aerial threats, from incoming missiles, to aircraft, to unmanned aerial vehicles.
In order to detect potential threats and get a sense of the combat theatre around the ship, the Ford comes equipped with a multifunction AN/SPY-3 X Band radar with a volume search radar AN/SPY-4 S-Band. She also has a Dual Band Radar (DBR), which was first developed for the Zumwalt-class destroyers.
6. The USS Gerald R. Ford consumed 200,000 gallons of paint
The entire exterior hull of the ship took around 200,000 gallons (757,082 liters) of paint to coat. This required between 120 and 170 painters and decorators to apply. Apparently, that is enough paint to coat the exterior of the White House 350 times over.
That is a lot of paint, but it gets better - this is no regular paint. The coating used for the ship is of a new formulation that can actually self-heal. It is also able to resist heat and U.V. rays.
7. There is actually a dental surgery, a shop, and a Starbucks onboard!
Believe it or not, the USS Gerald R. Fordactually has its own shops and even offers Starbucks coffee on board. The shop comes equipped with all the comforts of home in excess of the regular rations of food, etc., that the crew can get from the ship's canteen(s).
Apparently, the crew is able to use their Navy Cash Debit Card for any such purchases.
As for Starbucks, the branded coffee is available in the USS Gerald R. Ford's "Mac's" coffee shop (which is located within the main shop).
The coffee shop is not for profit, and all proceeds go to support various schemes for the ship's crew.
But wait, it gets better. To protect the crew from the rigors of eating or drinking too many sugary foods and drinks, the ship also has its own dental surgery!
For the god-fearing among the crew, the ship also comes with its own religious facilities too. An aircraft carrier like the USS Gerald R. Ford may hold as many as 40 different religious services per week while at sea. Each chaplain-led service is tailored to the specific traditions of the many faiths aboard the ship.
8. Here's what all the symbols and emblems mean on the USS Gerald R. Ford's crest
If you look at the point for north, you'll notice a Fleur-de-Lis symbol. Although used on the compass rose since antiquity, its use here stands for the Boy Scouts of America — Ford was the only Eagle Scout ever to become U.S. president.
The presence of the compass itself is meant to symbolize "The moral compass," a reference to President Ford's legacy of honesty and integrity.
USS Gerald R. Ford's global presence and linkages to the chief of naval operations' guiding philosophy of operating forward are shown by the world map.
The 38 stars around the logo commemorate Ford's legacy as the United States' 38th President. Twenty-six of the 38 stars have been colored in to depict his WWII battleship, the USS Monterey (CVL 26).
Ford's undergraduate university, the University of Michigan, is represented by the color scheme of azure (blue) and maize (yellow). To honor his graduate school, the crest also includes Yale blue and white.
The words "Integrity at the Helm" as they are the motto of the Ford Foundation and connect the ship not only to the Foundation but also serve to stress the Navy's key values.
And you thought it was a random assortment of images?
9. The USS Gerald R. Ford has a very new kind of catapult
Unlike her predecessors, the USS Gerald R. Ford includes many new innovations, including its non-steam-powered flight deck catapult.
Instead, she is equipped with an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) to launch all carrier aircraft. This innovative technology eliminates the need to generate and store steam, freeing up valuable space beneath the deck.
This also means that the USS Gerald R. Ford can launch 25% more planes per day with the EMALS than the Nimitz-class, and he can do it with 25% fewer crew members. Over a 50-year lifespan, the Navy believes that it will save $4 billion in operating costs.
EMALS is a type of aircraft launch system developed for the U.S. Navy by General Atomics. Instead of using a traditional steam piston, the system includes a catapult that uses a linear induction motor to launch carrier-based aircraft.
Its principal benefit is that it allows airplanes to accelerate more smoothly, reducing stress on their airframes. The EMALS weighs less, costs less, requires less maintenance than steam catapults, and can launch both larger and lighter aircraft than a steam piston-driven system. It also minimizes the amount of fresh water required by the carrier, lowering the demand for energy-intensive desalination.
The USS Gerald R. Ford is absolutely enormous, as we've already covered. Because of this, everything about her is supersized, like her propellers.
Each one (and there are four of them) weighs an eye-watering 30 tons each. They are each 21 ft (6.4 m) in diameter, and they are made of bronze. The installation of the propellers required more than 10 months of work to install the underwater shafting.
To power her enormous shafts and propellers, power is generated from the ship's pair of Bechtel A1B PWR nuclear reactors.
To do this, the nuclear reactors release energy in the form of heat which, in turn, is used to generate high-pressure steam.
This steam then drives propulsion turbines, which give the necessary power to turn the propellers. The ship's other electricity is generated by additional turbines. The water is routed back through the system as the steam cools and condenses back into the water, and the process begins again.
Crew access to the nuclear reactor compartment is forbidden during reactor operation to safeguard them from the radiation emitted by the reactor. Radiation monitors are worn by reactor engineers and are examined on a regular basis. To prevent radiation exposure, they follow tight safety protocols, work in shifts, and meticulously schedule their work.
11. There is actually a hidden time capsule on board
Another interesting fact about the ship is that it has a hidden time capsule on board. A long naval tradition, the time capsule was welded into a small compartment just above the flight deck on July 11, 2013. President Ford's daughter, Susan Ford Bales, chose the objects for the time capsule, which include, apparently, sandstone from the White House, Navy coins, and aviator wings from the ship's first commanding officer.
When the main flight deck island was then lowered into place above it, they were flattened by the incredibly heavy piece of engineering. In response, ship workers lifted the island again, allowing the mementos to be moved and saved.
Once done, the flattened items were placed into a time capsule that was welded into what will be the ship's flight deck room. While flattened, all of the commemorative items but the sandstone were largely still intact.
Associated with the time capsule, there is also a plaque. The plaque states that it should not be opened until the carrier's mid-life refueling and overhaul - about 25 years after it begins service.
And that, supercarrier lovers, is your lot for today.
The USS Gerald R. Ford is one of the largest and most advanced pieces of engineering ever put to sea. While she was incredibly expensive to make, the vessel should provide any long years of service for the United States Navy.
Quite what the future will have in store for her is yet to be seen, but you can bet your bottom dollar her crew will not shy away from their duties.