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CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford
[ CVN 21 / CVN-X / CVX ]

The Navy commissioned its newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), during a 10 a.m. EDT ceremony Saturday, 22 July 2017, at Naval Station Norfolk. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is the lead ship of the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carrier, the first new class in more than 40 years and will begin the phased replacement of Nimitz-class carriers when the ship is commissioned.

On 09 November 2013 the US Navy christened the first ship of a new class of aircraft carriers. A special ceremony was organized to mark the christening occasion at the Huntington-Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipyard in Virginia, where Susan Ford Bales, daughter of President Gerald Ford and also the ship's sponsor, officially christened the ship by breaking a champagne bottle against a plate welded to the hull. Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered a principal address at the ceremony, stressing that the aircraft carrier is the representation of American power. "It embodies our military might and more," said Levin. The Navy expects it to be delivered by September 2015.

On 10 September 2008 Northrop Grumman Corporation received a $5.1 billion, 7-year cost plus incentive fee contract award for detail design and construction of the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Advance construction of the Gerald R. Ford began in 2005 under a separate contract valued at $2.7 billion. This advance work allowed shipbuilders to test the design-build strategy, exercise new processes, prototype new features used on this ship before the overall construction contract was awarded, and to build a sufficient backlog of ship units to support production, undocking and delivery. About one third of the ship's 1,200 structural units were under construction. The ship's keel was to be laid in the fall of 2009 and delivery to the Navy was scheduled for 2015.

The CVN 78 Gerald R. Ford will be the first ship of the CVN 78 Class of aircraft carriers designed to replace USS Enterprise and the ships of the Nimitz Class. The CVN 78 will feature a new nuclear propulsion and electrical generation/distribution system, new electromagnetic aircraft launching system, advanced arresting gear system, all electric auxiliaries, warfare system improvements, survivability enhancements, improved weapons handling, and improved aircraft servicing. These design features will result in lower manpower and total ownership costs as compared to the Nimitz Class. Additionally, the following warfighting benefits will be realized: increased sortie generation rate, improved ship self defense capability, increased launch and recovery capability/flexibility, increased operational availability, and increased flexibility to support future upgrades.

The first new aircraft carrier design in more than 40 years, CVN-78 shares a modified Nimitz-class hull form with a completely reconfigured internal space arrangement and flight deck layout. Innovations for the Ford class include an enhanced flight deck with increased sortie rates, improved weapons movement, a redesigned island, a new nuclear power plant, allowance for future technologies and reduced manning. These and many other evolutionary new designs are being developed by Newport News engineers to build the most capable aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy.

The CVN 79 will incorporate technologies to address obsolescence, technology refresh, critical survival improvements, as well as manpower reduction and weight savings to maintain threshold levels of capability. An IPPD contract with Northrop Grumman Newport News will incorporate necessary modifications into the CVN 78 class baseline design. Efforts are focused on maintaining the Key Performance Parameters (KPPs) for weight and kg/service life allowance at or above the ORD threshold values. CVN 79 contract planning efforts will provide required program management and logistics support.

Advance construction began in 2005 for the first ship of the class, CVN 78. This advance work allowed shipbuilders to test the design-build strategy before overall construction begins in 2008. Each carrier of the class is valued at approximately $8 billion. On Aug. 11, 2005, Northrop Grumman Newport News hosted a ceremonial steel cut and grand opening ceremony for one of several new facilities that will support Ford class construction. The ceremony was held in the shipyard's new Heavy Plate Bay.

Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter announced 16 January 2007 the selection of Gerald R. Ford as the name of the first aircraft carrier in what will be the Gerald R. Ford class of carriers. The selection honors the 38th President of the United States and pays tribute to his lifetime of service in the Navy, in the U.S. government and to the nation. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) will be the premier forward asset for crisis response and early decisive striking power in a major combat operation. The carrier and the carrier strike group will provide forward presence, rapid response, endurance on station, and multi-mission capability. Gerald R. Ford and subsequent Ford class carriers will provide improved war fighting capability, quality of life improvements for sailors and reduced acquisition and life cycle costs.

Until 2007 the Navy operated 12 aircraft carriers. With the decommissioning of the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) in early 2007, the number of aircraft carriers dropped to 11. In 2008, the USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63) decommissioned and was replaced with the USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH (CVN 77), keeping the force structure at 11 carriers. Maintaining the KITTY HAWK -- the oldest active carrier in the fleet -- in an operational status beyond 2008 would be cost prohibitive. Designed for a service life of 30 years, the ENTERPRISE by 2006 was 46 years old. She had been refueled three times, most recently in 1994. As the only ship of her class, she has unique maintenance and testing requirements and requires a long lead time for material and spare parts. The ENTERPRISE deployed in the summer of 2007 and, upon her return, entered her last scheduled, major depot maintenance period in March 2008. That availability will enable the ENTERPRISE to complete two more deployments (in 2010 and 2012). Any extension beyond that would require an additional major maintenance availability at considerable cost and with a significant impact on the maintenance schedule for other aircraft carriers.

Section 1011 of the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Bill allowed for the temporary reduction in the minimum number of operational aircraft carriers from 11 to 10. Section 1011 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 (Public Law 109-364), amended 10 U.S.C. 5062(b) to reduce the minimum number of operational aircraft carriers from 12 to 11. Deactivation of the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65), after 52 years of service, is scheduled to begin in FY 2013; the delivery of her numerical replacement, the CVN 78, is scheduled for FY 2015. The actual duration of this temporary reduction in the carrier force structure will depend on the inactivation date of the ENTERPRISE and the delivery date of the CVN 78. Analysis by the Department of Defense indicates that Combatant Commander-required postures can be maintained throughout this period by accepting marginally increased risk and by carefully managing aircraft carrier maintenance and operating priorities.

On January 11, 2008 Northrop Grumman Newport News, Newport News, Va., was awarded a $595,944,566 modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-04-C-2118) for the continuation of CVN 78 class design effort; long lead time material procurement; and non-nuclear advance construction for the lead ship of the class, Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), including system development, engineering services, and feasibility studies for the Future Aircraft Carrier Program. Northrop Grumman Newport News will provide all services and material in preparation for construction of CVN 78 including necessary research studies; engineering; design; related development efforts, including required engineering development models and prototypes for engineered components; advanced planning; advanced procurement for detailed design and procurement/fabrication of long lead material; advanced construction; system specifications; design weight estimate; logistics data; lists of government-furnished equipment; production planning; further definition of initiatives to reduce CVN 78 class total ownership costs; and other data to support an integrated product data environment for the CVN 21 program. Work will be performed in Newport News, Va. (92 percent) and Groton, Conn. (8 percent), and is expected to be completed by July 2008. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington Navy Yard, D.C. is the contracting activity.

The non-recurring investment in the design and development of the Gerald Ford Class is $5.6B. This is comprised of $3.2B in RDT&E funds used to develop technologies needed to meet program requirements and $2.4B of SCN funds used to develop the detail design for the class. The total cost to build the lead ship is $8.1B in FY08 dollars. The Navy expects to award the CVN 78 construction contract in FY08 with an expected delivery in FY15.

Under the 2009 shipbuilding plan, the Navy's requirement is for 11 aircraft carriers, which is unchanged from the 2007 and 2008 plans. To maintain that size force, the Navy would buy seven CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carriers over the 2009-2038 period. Building them every four or five years, the Navy would maintain at least 11 carriers through 2038, with the exception of 2013 and 2014, when the force would drop to 10. That decline occurs because under the shipbuilding plan, the CVN-65, the Enterprise, will be retired at the end of its service life in 2013 and the CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that will replace it will not be commissioned until 2015. In the event of construction delays in the CVN-78 program, the period during which the Navy would have 10 carriers would be longer.

Each ship in the new class will save $5.3B in total ownership costs over its 50 year service life, compared to the CVN 68-class. Half of the total ownership cost for an aircraft carrier is allocated to the direct and indirect costs of manpower for operations and maintenance of the ship. The CVN 78 is being designed to operate effectively with 800 fewer crew members than a CVN 68-class ship. Improvements in the ship design will allow the embarked air wing to operate with 400 fewer personnel. Technologies and ship design initiatives that replace maintenance intensive systems with low maintenance systems are expected to reduce watch standing and maintenance workload for the crew. For comparison, the total ownership cost for a CVN 68-Class ship is $32.1B in FY 04 constant year dollars, and the total ownership cost for CVN 78 is expected to be $26.8B.

In 2012 the Directo rof Operatonl Test and Evalutaion reported that it was unlikely that CVN-78 will achieve its Sortie Generation Rate (SGR) (number of aircraft sorties per day) requirement. The target threshold is based on unrealistic assumptions including fair weather and unlimited visibility, and that aircraft emergencies, failures of shipboard equipment, ship maneuvers (e.g., to avoid land), and manning shortfalls will not affect flight operations. DOT&E planne to assess CVN-78 performance during IOT&E by comparing to the demonstrated performance of the Nimitz class carriers. A demonstrated SGR less than the requirement but equal to or greater than the performance of the Nimitz class could potentially be acceptable.

In an effort to reduce costs and increase commonalities across platforms, the US Navy planned as of 2015 to put a new ship radar system on the second Ford-class aircraft carrier, the USS Kennedy, as well as the third big-deck America-class amphibious assault ship, dubbed LHA 8. The new radar, called the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) is slated to go on the USS Kennedy around 2023, and is expected to save the Navy $180 million in the cost of the ship, according to Rear Adm. Thomas Moore, the program executive officer for carriers.

“The radar that we choose is going to be an off-the-shelf radar that we tailor to the ship. There are a number of radars out there that appear to meet the specs.” Moore said to reporters. “This will not be a developmental issue. LHA 8 will be the first ship to get EASR.” The decision to fit an EASR radar on carriers and amphibs emerged out of a Navy study on technologies that would work across multiple platforms, but it was also largely motivated by the service’s desire to lower the costs of the Dual Brand Radar (DBR), currently configured in the USS Ford, the first Ford-class aircraft carrier.

The Navy conducted the first-ever, shipboard, full-speed catapult shots using the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) aboard the aircraft carrier Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), Naval Sea Systems Command announced 15 May 2015.

EMALS is a carrier-based launch system designed to expand the operational capability of the Navy's future carriers to include all current and future planned carrier aircraft. The recent test shots, known as 'no-loads' because no aircraft or other loads were attached to the launching shuttle, successfully demonstrated the integrated catapult system. Using electromagnetic technology, the system delivers substantial improvements in system maintenance, increased reliability and efficiency, higher-launch energy capacity, and more accurate end-speed control, with a smooth acceleration at both high and low speeds. By allowing linear acceleration over time, electromagnetic catapults also place less stress on the aircraft.

The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), closed out 2018 on a high note with the acceptance of the ship’s first advanced weapons elevator (AWE). AWE Upper Stage #1 was turned over to the ship on Dec. 21, following testing and certification by engineers at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding, where the ship is currently working through its post-shakedown availability (PSA). The acceptance marks a major milestone for the ship and the Ford-class of aircraft carriers to follow.

USS Gerald R. Ford is the first Ford-class aircraft carrier and is the first new carrier design in over 40 years. Unlike Nimitz-class carrier elevators that utilize cables for movement, the Ford class elevators are commanded via electromagnetic, linear synchronous motors allowing for greater capacities and a faster movement of weapons. The new design allows the ship to be able to move up to 24,000 pounds of ordnance at 150 feet-per-minute. This is in contrast to the 10,500 pounds at up to 100 feet-per-minute on a Nimitz-class carrier.

This will allow us to load more aircraft faster, and in the long run, increase overall sortie generation rates. But aside from the advantages of the new AWE, the new ship design also offered a chance to streamline the overall movement and assembly of weapons to allow for even greater efficiencies. Ford features three upper stage elevators that move ordnance between the main deck and flight deck, and seven lower stage elevators that move ordnance between the main deck and the lower levels of the ship. Ford also features a dedicated weapons handling area between the hangar bay and the flight deck, on the 02 level, that eliminates several horizontal and vertical movements to various staging and build-up locations. This ultimately offers a 75% reduction in distance traveled from magazine to aircraft.

An additional benefit of the ship’s design is a separate utility elevator that can serve as a dedicated elevator to move both ordnance and supplies, and also serve as a means to medically evacuate (MEDEVAC) injured personnel from the flight deck to the hangar bay. This allows the 10 main AWEs and Ford’s three aircraft elevators to be dedicated to their primary missions of ordnance and aircraft movement during real-world operations.

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Page last modified: 10-02-2019 13:41:11 ZULU