Airfields Afloat: The USA’s New Gerald Ford Class Super-Carriers
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September 6/18: 50% remaining The Navy’s CVN-21 program hits another milestone. Huntington Ingalls Industries has managed to significantly reduce the construction time of the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers. The USS John F. Kennedy is now 14 months ahead of schedule. To make the construction process more efficient, most of each super carrier is assembled in separate modular pieces called superlifts. Each superlift may contain many compartments, spanning multiple decks, and they can weigh anywhere from 80 to 1000 tons. Each superlift undergoes an extensive pre-outfitting process and is then installed in the carrier with the help of massive cranes. The Kennedy comes with a $13 billion pricet-tag and will be christened in late 2019.
Some nations have aircraft carriers. The USA has super-carriers. The French Charles De Gaulle Class nuclear carriers displace about 43,000t. India’s new Vikramaditya/ Admiral Gorshkov Class will have a similar displacement. The future British CVF Queen Elizabeth Class and related French PA2 Project are expected to displace about 65,000t, while the British Invincible Class carriers that participated in the Falklands War weigh in at just 22,000t. Invincible actually compares well to Italy’s excellent new Cavour Class (27,000t), and Spain’s Principe de Asturias Class (17,000t). The USA’s Nimitz Class and CVN-21 Gerald R. Ford Class, in contrast, fall in the 90,000+ tonne range. Hence their unofficial designation: “super-carriers”. Just one of these ships packs a more potent air force than many nations.
As the successor to the 102,000 ton Nimitz Class super-carriers, the CVN-21 program aimed to increase aircraft sortie generation rates by 20%, increase survivability to better handle future threats, require fewer sailors, and have depot maintenance requirements that could support an increase of up to 25% in operational availability. The combination of a new design nuclear propulsion plant and an improved electric plant are expected to provide 2-3 times the electrical generation capacity of previous carriers, which in turn enables systems like an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS, replacing steam-driven catapults), Advanced Arresting Gear, and integrated combat electronics that will leverage advances in open systems architecture. Other CVN-21 features include an enhanced flight deck, improved weapons handling and aircraft servicing efficiency, and a flexible island arrangement allowing for future technology insertion. This graphic points out many of the key improvements.
DID’s CVN-21 FOCUS Article offers a detailed look at a number of the program’s key innovations, as well as a list of relevant contract awards and events.
The New Gerald R. Ford Class
CVN-21: Improvements and Innovations
Ford Class: New Technologies
Ford Class: Design Improvements
Transitional Carrier: CV 77, USS George H.W. Bush
The CVN-21 Carrier Replacement Program
CVN-21 Class: Contract Awards & Key Events
FY 2013 – FY 2018
FY 2006 and earlier
CVN-21: Other Related Contracts and Events
FY 2012 – 2013
FY 2010 – 2011
FY 2007 – 2009
FY 2004 – 2006
CVN-21 Class: Additional Readings and Sources
The Carrier’s Future
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