$12.9 bil­lion, 4.5 acres: Navy’s next-gen­er­a­tion air­craft car­rier

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

The Navy refers to its new­est air­craft car­rier, the USS Ger­ald R Ford, as “4.5 acres of sov­er­eign US ter­ri­tory.” The $12.9 bil­lion war­ship - the first of the Navy’s next gen­er­a­tion of air­craft car­ri­ers - is in the fi­nal stages of con­struc­tion af­ter cost over­runs and a de­lay of more than one year.

This car­rier and those that will fol­low, in­clud­ing the USS John F Kennedy and the USS En­ter­prise, will re­place the Nimitz-class car­ri­ers, which were first com­mis­sioned in 1975. Con­struc­tion on the Ford started in 2009 and on the Kennedy in 2015. Con­struc­tion is sched­uled to start on the En­ter­prise in 2018, but that could be pushed back.

The Ford - sit­ting now at New­port News Ship­build­ing, the gi­ant Navy con­trac­tor in Vir­ginia - will house about 2,600 sailors, 600 fewer than the Nimitz-class car­ri­ers. The Navy says that will save more than $4 bil­lion over the ship’s 50-year life­span. The air wing to sup­port the Ford could add more per­son­nel to the ship, which is de­signed to house more than 4,600 crew mem­bers.

The Navy had hoped to be­gin test­ing the Ford’s sys­tems and equip­ment dur­ing sea tri­als this fall. But those tests and a de­liv­ery date have been de­layed as work con­tin­ues on some of the ves­sel’s new tech­nol­ogy, such as its power gen­er­a­tion sys­tem, air­craft land­ing equip­ment and ad­vanced weapons el­e­va­tors.

Con­struc­tion was sup­posed to be com­pleted by Septem­ber 2015, with a cost cap of $10.5 bil­lion. The Navy has at­trib­uted de­lays and cost over­runs to the ship’s state-of-the-art sys­tems and tech­nol­ogy.

Capt. Richard McCormick took com­mand of the Ford last spring and will be at the helm for sea tri­als when they are sched­uled. The ship’s des­ti­na­tion once it’s de­liv­ered to the Navy? “Bot­tom line is that when the ship is ready for de­ploy­ment, we will go where the boss tells us to go,” McCormick says.

The ves­sel in­cludes elec­tro­mag­netic launch sys­tems for jets and drones, re­plac­ing steam cat­a­pults; a smaller island that sits far­ther back on the ship, mak­ing it eas­ier and quicker to re­fuel, re-arm and re­launch planes; and a nu­clear power plant de­signed to al­low cruis­ing speeds of more than 30 knots and op­er­a­tion for 20 years with­out re­fu­el­ing.

The in-port cabin re­flects the life and ca­reer of the ship’s name­sake, Pres­i­dent Ger­ald R. Ford. Be­sides liv­ing quarters, the cabin serves as a cer­e­mo­nial re­ceiv­ing lo­ca­tion for dis­tin­guished guests and as an area for the captain to wel­come new sailors aboard. Morn­ing meet­ings are held in the suite’s board­room.


The Ford weighs close to 100,000 tons and get­ting it to rest dead in the water re­quires some se­ri­ous stop­ping power. Hours of plan­ning go into drop­ping an­chor, but when the brake is re­leased and the an­chor starts to drop, it hap­pens fast: 90 feet of chain can pay out in 5 sec­onds.

Below deck on the ship is a maze of steel hatches and heav­ily plated hall­ways that de­scend 11 lev­els, re­veal­ing the work­ings of a small city - a med­i­cal ward, bar­ber shops, fit­ness cen­ters, liv­ing quarters, fire sta­tions and more.

Rou­tine tasks are punc­tu­ated aboard the Ford with “gen­eral quar­ter” drills: Sirens blare and sailors scram­ble to de­fen­sive po­si­tions, seal­ing hatches and as­sem­bling near re­pair lock­ers. — AP

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