JUST IN: Delayed Gerald R. Ford Aircraft Carrier Prepares for Multi-National Exercise

By Josh Luckenbaugh

Navy photo

After years of delays, the Navy plans to deploy the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier at a multi-national exercise this fall, officials announced July 13.

The flagship of the Navy’s newest class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers will have a “partial air wing” when it sets out to sea later this year, said Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, commander of the Naval Air Forces, during a Center for Strategic and International Studies and U.S. Naval Institute panel discussion.

An ambitious “two to three ship evolution” from the Nimitz-class carriers, the Ford has experienced significant delays throughout its development, said Rear Adm. James Downey, the Navy’s program executive officer for aircraft carriers.

The ship was formally commissioned by President Donald Trump in 2017, but integrating a variety of new technologies caused some further delays. Nonetheless, Navy officials said they were pleased with the progress the aircraft carrier has made over the past several years.

It's been “a very intense last three years. But that's a microcosm of coming up with a new class,” Downey said. The Gerald R. Ford is in fact a year or two ahead of the Navy’s recent expectations, he added.

In the years since its commission, the ship has gone through a rigorous amount of tests and trials, including an 18-month period where it spent almost half of that time out at sea, said Downey. After that, the ship experienced four months of shock trials that displayed its superior design, he said.

Ford completed the shock trials with 20 percent of the damage that CVN-71 — USS Theodore Roosevelt — sustained in its shock trials during the 1980s, according to Downey. “[That] speaks to the design,” he added.

The carrier’s nuclear power supply also gives the Gerald R. Ford a leg up on its Chinese competition, the Fujian aircraft carrier, said Ward Carroll, director of marketing and outreach for the U.S. Naval Institute and retired Navy commander. Both carriers have an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, he noted, but the Fujian is at a power disadvantage.

“That’s a conventional powered carrier,” Carroll said during the panel discussion. “So they’re going to have to refuel like every other day to power the" launch system.

The Gerald R. Ford, on the other hand, can carry an excess of nuclear capacity, which makes powering up the launch system a simple task, said Carroll. “In fact, that excess energy capacity can be used in the future for a self-defense capability that can make hypersonics maybe a moot point as well,” he added.

The new carrier will have company when it sails out on its maiden deployment, said Downey.

“She's on track to go this fall,” he said. The multi-national event will include French and U.K. carriers, at least seven other navies, he added.

Topics: Navy News, Aircraft Carriers, Shipbuilding

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