Rear Admiral William Moran, the Navy’s director of air warfare, Rear Admiral Thomas Moore, PEO Carriers, and Captain Ed McNamee, USN (Retired) make the case for the new Gerald Ford-class carriers in this piece they wrote in the Naval Institute’s Proceedings.
The three men note that the $12.9 billion price-tag for the USS Gerald Ford includes $3.7 billion of non-recurring design costs which is needed for the entire class. The benefits should accrue over the entire 94-year life of the Ford-class design–covering 10 ships. Also they note: “A 2002 decision to move from a three-ship evolutionary strategy to a single leap forward resulted in the concurrent design and build of many new technologies that were originally planned for later ships.”
Here is an excerpt that highlights some of the advantages of this vessel over the current Nimitz-class:
“Combat Power: The aircraft carrier’s primary mission is to generate overwhelming combat power from the sea. Its presence should be convincing enough to deter an adversary, its air wing deadly enough to prevent an adversary from achieving its objectives. Often a single carrier and embarked air wing will conduct this role for several weeks until a second or even third carrier can arrive on station if needed. The beauty of a carrier is its ability to conduct persistent, powerful, and precise strike operations anywhere on the globe. Improvements to Ford -class carriers will introduce unprecedented levels of warfighting capability and capacity.
• Today’s Nimitz -class carriers can routinely generate 120 combat sorties per day. 4 Ford -class carriers will be able to generate 33 percent more sorties per day–160 sorties, and more than 270 sorties per day for short periods of high-tempo operations. 5 Combined with today’s weapons and improved targeting capability that allow a single aircraft to target multiple targets on each sortie, the overall combat capability of the Ford class’s embarked air wing will increase substantially.
• The island is smaller and moved farther aft than on the Nimitz class, allowing more room for efficient flight-deck operations. The flight deck itself is larger and reconfigured to allow easier maneuvering of aircraft. Weapons and fuel servicing stations were updated to resemble a NASCAR pit, increasing efficiency and reducing the time it takes to refuel, rearm, and relaunch an aircraft. The larger flight deck will also accommodate seamless integration of manned and unmanned operations.
• The single largest contributor to the increase in sortie-generation rate is the product of a new generation of weapons elevators along with an updated shipboard arrangement that improves the flow of weapons from the magazines to the aircraft. The elevators use linear motors instead of cabling to improve reliability, reduce maintenance, and increase ship survivability. The locations of the elevators reduce horizontal travel distances between the lower- and upper-stage elevators, and the ship is designed with an O-3-level final bomb-assembly area, eliminating the Nimitz -class requirement to assemble weapons on the mess decks and pre-stage the weapons in the “bomb farm” outboard of the island before transfer to the aircraft.
• The new EMALS will expand the launch envelope, allowing pilots to launch with heavier aircraft, more weapons, or less available wind. EMALS will also be able to launch lighter aircraft than current steam-driven catapults, paving the way for innovations in manned/unmanned aircraft.
• The advanced arresting gear (AAG) will be able to recover heavier aircraft, ensuring that any increase in the weight of current aircraft (a normal occurrence as the Fleet adds new capabilities to existing aircraft) can be supported, and will also allow aircraft to land with less available wind. That is particularly useful during aircraft emergencies, some of which may require greater aircraft speeds to land safely, or when aircraft return with unused weapons.
• EMALS and AAG also provide secondary benefits. Because both systems can be tuned to the specific aircraft, launch and recovery forces are applied more evenly, reducing stress on airframes and potentially increasing the time between maintenance while simultaneously reducing the amount of maintenance required.”