A $13 billion U.S. aircraft carrier is about to hit the open seas.
It’s the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the most expensive and most advanced warship ever built. The ship was christened in November 2013 and is scheduled to be commissioned this month.
The Naval behemoth can house more than 4,500 people and weighs 90,000 tons. The CVN-78 is the lead ship in the Ford class of aircraft carriers, replacing some of the U.S. Navy’s existing Nimitz-class carriers. At first glance, both classes have a similar-looking hull, but the Ford class introduces a series of technical innovations designed to improve carrier’s operating efficiency, and reduce operating costs and crew requirements.
Under the hood
Instead of conventional steam catapults to launch jets, the supercarrier is outfitted with EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System), which is lighter and requires less space. It also needs less maintenance and manpower, and is more reliable and energy-efficient. EMALS can launch an aircraft every 45 seconds, 25% faster than its steam counterpart. Furthermore, since EMALS uses no steam, it’s a suitable candidate for launching drones and other electric vehicles.
he launch system is just a small piece of the CVN-78’s puzzle.
The ship has a redesigned and relocated island (the part of the carrier where air-traffic control and the bridge are located), three faster and more powerful elevators (compared with four on Nimitz-class carriers), an Advanced Aircraft Recovery System (AARS) and design changes to the flight deck. Those changes are vital to increasing the number of sorties launched.
The carrier’s sensory array has received an overhaul with the addition of an integrated active electronically scanned array (AESA) search-and-tracking radar system. This new system has no moving parts, so it therefore minimizes maintenance and crew requirements for operation. Further, advanced AESA radars enable the ship and aircraft to broadcast powerful signals while remaining stealthy, which greatly improves combat effectiveness.
Speaking of combat, the carrier is more than capable of holding its own. The Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) defends against high-speed, highly maneuverable anti-ship missiles, and the weapon system of choice is the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM). One must not forget various Gatling and heavy machine gun mounts as well as 75-plus aircraft ready to be launched at any given time.
The CVN-78 has another important advantage over its equivalent Nimitz class carrier: Its power doesn’t come with the price of increased hands on board. In fact, because of the aforementioned technologies, the USS Gerald R. Ford accommodates 2,600 sailors, 600 fewer than a Nimitz-class flat top. This alone saves the Navy more than $4 billion in ownership costs over each ship’s 50-year life, when compared with contemporary Nimitz aircraft carriers.
As expected, the CVN-78 has impressive power. The ship is powered by two Bechtel A1B nuclear reactors, each capable of producing 300 megawatts of electricity, triple that of Nimitz-class reactors. Those changes resulted in a two-thirds reduction of watchstanding requirements and a big decrease in required maintenance.
With great power comes great firepower. Only half of the power-generating capability on the CVN-78 is needed to run currently planned systems, including EMALS. The CVN-78 will thus have the power reserves that the Nimitz class lacks to sport even more futuristic armaments and systems, such as free-electron lasers and dynamic armor, at some point in the future.
The lasers can be fired at just a few dollars per shot and consume around 10 megawatts of power.
As you can see, the USS Gerald R. Ford packs a serious punch — it’s a massive investment in strategic dominance and innovation that, in spite of rising concerns, should provide the U.S. with the upper hand in 21st-century naval warfare.
What do you think about the CVN-78 — its costs, capabilities? Please let me know in the comment section below.
USS Gerald R Ford is a $15 Billion Sitting Duck
Analyst Sergei Ischenko contends that America’s supercarriers are too large to successfully evade supersonic anti-ship missiles, as well as attack submarines
Later this year, the US Navy plans to accept the USS Gerald R. Ford, the most expensive and advanced warship ever put to sea, into service. Eventually, Ford-class carriers may replace all ten of the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers, starting with the USS Enterprise.
Analyzing the new vessel and its weak points, Sergei Ischenko, a military analyst and columnist for independent Russian newspaper Svobodnaya Pressa, suggests that unfortunately for the US Navy, in the event of a conflict with Russia, America’s latest and greatest carrier would effectively be turned into a giant floating graveyard. And those aren’t his words, but those of American analysts themselves.
“The Navy’s gigantic new aircraft carrier, capable of accommodating up to 90 aircraft and aerial vehicles (including drones and the F-35 fifth generation attack aircraft), has already received a series of enthusiastic epithets about its high level of automation, and its record $15 billion cost,” Ischenko recalls.
At the same time however, “a series of respected American military experts have already suggested that it may be possible that what the aircraft carrier really is a super-expensive, ‘super-graveyard’ for its crew of thousands. The huge ship, aspiring to become a symbol of America’s power on the oceans, may become obsolete before it is even completed.”
Last month, Harry J. Kazianis, a military analyst and senior contributor for the Washington-based foreign affairs magazine The National Interest,said as much in an article.
“Countries with the technological means, specifically great powers like China and Russia –nations the Pentagon considers as the main big challenge for the US military – are developing cruise missile platforms that can strike from long-range and en masse from multiple domains,” Kazianis noted. “Such weapons…if accurate, using highly trained crews combined with the means to find their target on the vast open oceans –could turn America’s supercarriers into multi-billion dollar graveyards for thousands of US sailors.”
“And Harry Kazianis is not alone in offering such an opinion,” Ischenko recalled. Also last month, in an op-ed for Politico, retired US Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix, a defense analyst for the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, suggested that the golden age for US carriers ended the moment when China and Russia began introducing long-range coastal missile systems into the ranks of their militaries.
“Hendix,” Ischenko writes, “is convinced that in case of war, the capabilities of Russian and Chinese anti-ship cruise, ballistic missile and air defense forces would force US Navy carrier strike groups (CSGs) to stay hundreds or even thousands of kilometers from the enemy’s coast, which would make strikes from their carrier-based aircraft against ground targets ineffective. Additionally, any CSG movement is easily observable from space, enabling the US’s opponents to position their countermeasures ahead of time.”
“The arithmetic here is simple: the main strike capability of the contemporary US Navy consists of its air wing, consisting of 30-40 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The combat radius of these aircraft is about 800 km. For the Super Hornets to able to even threaten to conduct air strikes against targets on the shores of enemy territory, they would have to take off 400 nautical miles from their targets.”
“However,” the analyst continues, “if the US Navy CSG were to attempt to make it to say, the Russian shore, it’s unlikely that it would reach its destination, because, far from its target, it would be attacked by the Tu-22M3, a supersonic long-range bomber equipped with the Kh-22 anti-ship missile, designed back in the Soviet period specifically for use against aircraft carriers.”
“Each Tu-22M3 is capable of carrying up to three such missiles.
Moreover, the missiles can be fitted with a nuclear warhead.” The Kh-22’s latest modification, the Kh-22M/MA, has an operation range of 600 km (320 nautical miles), delivered at Mach 5, and carrying a payload of 1,000 kg of RDX. “The range of the aircraft itself is practically unlimited, since it is possible to refuel from the air,” Ischenko notes.
“And if by some miracle the US CSG were to evade the air-based missile strike, closer to our shore the ships would come up on the firing range of the K-300P Bastion-P mobile coastal defense missile system, equipped with the P-800 Oniks supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles [known in export markets as the Yakhont, with an operational range of 600 km [the export variant’s range is 120-300 km, depending on altitude].”