To call it the biggest and best aircraft carrier ever built would be, at the very least, a gross understatement. The USS Gerald R. Ford is more than an incredible fighting machine. She is to 21st century naval warfare what the Monitor was to 19th century naval warfare.
When all the political wrangling and negotiations were done, the first cere
monial steel cut on August 11, 2005 signaled the start of construction of a revolutionary new super carrier. The torch hit the metal at Northrop-Grumman Ship Building in Newport News, Virginia. The first cut was part of the first of many units that were eventually welded together to form the roughly 100,000 long ton super carrier.
The contract to build the 5.1-billion-dollar carrier was signed on Sept 10th, 2008. An advanced contract for $2.7 billion dollars to design and build the supercarriers had been signed in 2005. The Huntington Ingalls yard which was formerly Northrop Grumman, is located in Newport News and is a veritable beehive of shipbuilding. Even at night, the darkness is illuminated by the flashing blue lights of security vessels guarding the waterside while sight of work lights, the sparks of grinders and the flash of arc welding light up the darkness like fourth of July fireworks. Dry Dock number 12 was alive for the next four years swarming with many of the 19,000 workers that man what is the premier ship building facility used by the U.S. Navy.
Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced on January 3rd of 2007 the supercarriers would be named after former president Gerald R. Ford. president Ford had served in the Navy, His daughter Susan Ford Bales was named sponsor of the ship on January 16th, 2007 which would henceforth be named CVN-78 USS Gerald R. Ford.
By August of 2011 the mass of steel was beginning to look like a very very big ship as she was “declared structurally halfway complete.” The following year, in April she was 75% complete. It took a total of 500 major lifts required to put all of the modular sections in place. By December 19th 446 major lifts had been completed. The 26th of January 2013 saw the island, that is really the operational heart of the Ford , lifted into place. After 162 super lifts were completed, the ship was declared structurally complete on May 7th, 2013.
The USS Ford , aka CVN 78, is the first aircraft carrier to make a significant leap to electrical power, with three times the generating capacity of Nimitz class to allow replacing traditional steam‐powered systems and providing margins and ship weight allowance to incorporate future technologies. Ironically President Trump suggested steam should still be used.
The arduous task of making her into a working ship was now begun. A time capsule was installed. Then four 21-foot diameter bronze propellers weighing 30 tons each was put into place. In October of 2013 the dry dock was flooded for the first time to test for seawater integrity. Work progressed at a rapid pace and she was christened by Susan Ford Bales on November the 9th, 2013. By that time the construction cost, which had originally been estimated to be $12.8 billion dollars, had already exceeded the 2008 budget by 22%.
The builders were moving into new technology the most ingenious of which is the Electro Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). The EMALS are a major improvement over the traditional steam catapults used to literally hurl the planes off the carrier deck into the air. The EMALS system uses electrically powered opposite magnetic field to launch the aircraft. Tested first on land, the new system has been test and it works for the shipboard recovery and launch of fleet fixed wing aircraft. It eliminates the need for the generation and storage of massive quantities of steam. USS Gerald R. Ford can launch 26% more aircraft in one day than was possible on a Nimitz class carrier. The many innovative technologies, including Lasers, will reduce the crew by 25%. The mighty USS Ford will launch unmanned aircraft as well as maned strike fighters.
There were some glitches In January of 2014 the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation stated the ships critical systems including the EMALS, Advanced Arresting Gear, the dual Band Radar and some of the weapons elevators were not yet up to the Navy’s operational standards.
While engineers went back to the drawing boards to correct their original design problems in the EMALS and arresting systems, construction continue. Serious problems were found in the Main Turbine Generators were discovered in the summer of 2016. It was not until April 8th of 2017 that the USS Gerald R. Ford got underway on under her own power then headed out to sea. Sea trials went well and she was back at Norfolk by April 14th, 2017. The dreaded acceptance trials where the Navy determines if the ship will be accepted from the builder took place on May 26th, 2017. The USS Ford was commissioned into the United States Navy on July 22nd, 2017 at an elaborate ceremony which included a speech by President Donald Trump. “When it comes to battle, we don’t want a fair fight. We demand victory and we will have total victory, believe me,” Mr. Trump said of the powerful aircraft carrier.
“American steel and American hands have constructed a 100,000-ton message to the world,” he added. “America’s might is second to none.”
Mr. Trump also used the event to reflect on military spending, highlighting his administration’s work in increasing the defense budget.
“You are fulfilling your duty to this nation. And now it is our job to fulfill its duty to you.” said Mr. Trump.
“It’s been a very, very bad period of time for our military, that is why were reached a deal to secure additional $20 billion for defense this year and it’s going up and why I ask Congress for another $54 billion for next year,” said Mr. Trump. “Now we need Congress to do its job and pass the budget that provides for higher stable and predictable funding levels for our military needs that our fighting men and women deserve, and you will get, believe me.”
The Ford is expected to go on station by sometime in 2020 which may seem like a long time. However, it must be considered that getting the Ford ready for active duty involves what is tantamount to creating a whole new city and getting it running efficiently, while at the same time getting this 100,000-ton floating city of steel and her crew ready to do battle for the United States Navy.
Her 75 plus aircraft must be manned and ready at a moment’s notice to be hurled into the air. She will move along at better than
30 knots and will have a ships compliments of 2,600 souls. Her range is unlimited and she could operate for twenty to twenty-five years before going back to Newport News for fuel for her two A1B nuclear reactors.
The island is smaller and farther aft than the Nimitz class carriers. This increases the space for flight deck operations and aircraft maintenance. The USS Ford is able to generate 333 percent more sorties or flight missions than was possible on the Nimitz-class carriers.
The length of the USS Gerald R. Ford is 1,106 feet with a beam of 134 feet at the waterline and 256 feet at the flight deck. There are twenty-five decks. She is 250 feet high and is the first of a new class of carriers named the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers. This new class of carriers offers major performance over the previous Nimitz class. Her AN/SPY 3active electronically scanned array multi-function radar can track objects far more distant than was previously possible. Obviously, many of innovative the weapons systems are classified. Experts assure us that the innovations are mind boggling. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greet said, in a webcast ceremony at Newport News, VA., shipyard where the Gerald R. Ford was constructed, “She is truly a technological marvel.”
The USS Gerald R. Ford will soon sail the seven seas flying the American flag from her masts and providing an awesome visible presence for all those who would threaten human freedom to see and understand. Packed in her hanger decks she carries devastating fire power ready to be unleashed against any nation that would make the fatal mistake of attempting to attack the United States of America. God speed USS Gerald R Ford , Fair winds and following seas.