The Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier just left port

BY PGF
1 year, 8 months ago

USS Ford, CVN-78, is ready for action.

You (and we use that word with some regret) can build a ship, but can you fight with her? Are you even allowed to refer to her as her? The term Paper Tiger comes to mind.

The aircraft carrier is a 100-year-old concept. I suspect that today, after only one month of actual war, it would be realized that a new primary naval surface system and tactics would be needed. I’ve been at sea on the Lincoln CVN-72 and the Stennis CVN-74, though not as ship’s company (crew member). They are impressive in operation.

The Ford’s construction began in 2009, and it was formally commissioned in 2017. In 2008, when funding for the Ford was approved, it cost $13.3 billion. The ship was first declared operational in December 2021, though it suffered delays as work on technical problems, like weapons elevators, was still needed before it could properly set sail.

The Ford is the eleventh aircraft carrier presently in the fleet to enter active service, and it’s the first of the new design. The previous Nimitz-class carriers first entered service in 1975, with the most recent of that class joining in 2009. Eleven carriers is a lot, more than that of any other nation, though it’s also the minimum allowed by Congress. It’s a number that also does not include the Navy’s amphibious assault ships, in both Wasp and America classes, which have flight decks and are comparable in size to the aircraft carriers of other nations.

The Ford borrows a hull design from the Nimitz class, though it is somewhat modified. Internally, the carrier is redesigned to maximize both its utility and minimize long-term costs. This includes, most notably, the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which replaces the steam catapults on earlier carriers. Steam catapults help planes get up to speed when taking off from the short carrier runways, pulling a cable that helps hurl the plane as it accelerates to flight. EMALS replaces the steam buildup and launch of the previous system for an electromagnetic rail, which can be reset and reused more quickly.

The EMALS is one of several systems developed for the Ford-class carriers that have had performance issues in development, necessitating repair and modification. Other design changes include replacing the hydraulic weapons elevators of the Nimitz system with electromagnetic motors, allowing more and faster movement of munitions to and from deck. There are 11 of these elevators on the ship, and all 11 were fixed after construction, with repairs continuing until December 2021, even as the Ford was conducting trials at sea.

[…]

The Ford class also includes a more powerful nuclear power plant, allowing it to run existing and future electronics systems. Another big change with the design is that the Ford class is designed to need about 800-1,200 fewer crew than a Nimitz class, saving space, labor costs, and ultimately, allowing the Navy to fulfill more needs on more ships with fewer people.

Here’s a rundown of weapons systems, capabilities (on paper), and capacities.

Referring to your ship as she indicates the mutual respect and dependency necessary to be at sea. Whether you like it or not, you’re married to her, and she’s the only one you’ve got. It’s not as though you can call 911 if something goes wrong. You take care of her, and she’ll be true to you, fighting every battle by your side through to the end. Some ships are good ol’ gals, and some are rotten stinkers that sometimes need a good kick to the pants. I always thought it interesting that each vessel seems to have her own personality, much of which is reflected in her by the very first commissioning crew. I refer to them as she; take me to the gulag if you think you can.


Comments

  1. On October 10, 2022 at 9:17 pm, IAB said:

    Joseph Conrad, who knew something of ships and the sea, wrote a short story titled ‘The Brute’: ‘What’s madness? Only something just a tiny bit wrong in the make of your brain. Why shouldn’t there be a mad ship — I mean mad in a ship-like way, so that under no circumstances could you be sure she would do what any other sensible ship would naturally do for you. There are ships that steer wildly, and ships that can’t be quite trusted always to stay; others want careful watching when running in a gale; and, again, there may be a ship that will make heavy weather of it in every little blow. But then you expect her to be always so. You take it as part of her character, as a ship, just as you take account of a man’s peculiarities of temper when you deal with him. But with her you couldn’t. She was unaccountable.’

  2. On October 10, 2022 at 10:18 pm, 21stCenturyCassandra said:

    Last I heard the sewage pipes on this carrier clogged on a regular basis. Hope they fixed that.

  3. On October 11, 2022 at 12:00 am, scott s. said:

    I would say it’s unfixable. BITD we just ran copious salt water through the crappers and over the side. Then they back-fit holding tanks called CHT (pronounced sort of like chit) for pumping ashore or waiting for the 12 mi limit. But then they had the idea to burn it, so they needed to use fresh water which isn’t such a problem on CV, but for “small boys” it is. So they needed to reduce flow to conserve water. Reduced flow means you get clogs. The poor boiler techs on shore duty — they had been tasked with using HP water jets to clean “watersides” on propulsion boiler generating tube banks, but instead spent most their time as ‘rotor-router” on CHT piping. (Shipboard piping systems are color coded and some fiend decided to use gold for CHT.)

  4. On October 11, 2022 at 7:03 am, Bill Buppert said:

    ComNavOps at Navy Matters has done a thorough examination over the years of the specific problems with this carrier and they are legion.

    He still holds a candle for the efficacy of carriers operations in the 21st century.

    I do not.

    https://navy-matters.blogspot.com

  5. On October 11, 2022 at 7:29 am, Nosmo said:

    Aircraft carriers, as a species, proved their worth in late 1941 and expanded their capabilities throughout the remainder of WWII in both the Atlantic (escort carriers) and the Pacific (fleet carriers).

    Since then, however, technology has changed the oceanic battlefield. I wonder how much of the U.S. Navy’s devotion to Nimitz class carriers is affected by memories of how the Essex class carriers performed during WWII. There is no question carriers serve a valuable purpose but I suspect there may be design, operational and quantity changes not fully considered.

  6. On October 11, 2022 at 12:15 pm, Redman said:

    I wonder what the lifespan of a 13 plus billion $ carrier in actual combat is when the opposing side can launch a swarm of ship killing missiles. How many missiles have to get through to put it on the bottom, or take out a critical system. Though a great weapon against mountain dwelling AK-47 practitioners, it’s the technically advanced dwellers that cause concern. Has the carriers time come? Time may tell.

  7. On October 11, 2022 at 2:01 pm, bob sykes said:

    WW II showed that it is hard to sink a carrier, but damage to its flight deck is easy, and prevents air craft launch and recovery.

    Carriers are still useful against Second and Third World countries, but they have to avoid First World and well armed countries.

    Same is true for the Marines. Useful against Second and Third World countries, but not against better armed countries, like Iran, China…

  8. On October 12, 2022 at 11:56 am, Bradley A Graham said:

    The Navy could have bought a couple Virginia class subs and thrown in a few Arleigh Burke tin cans for the price of one homecoming queen.

    The CV is still marginally useful and that mentality will never fade from the USN but with a track record that includes abortions like the LCS and Zumwalt it all gives credence that the navy is more focused on fantasy than winning.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Navy and was published October 10th, 2022 by PGF.

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