The $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) aircraft carrier is the most expensive and most advanced warship ever built. It will be commissioned this summer.
The ship can hold 4,500 people and weighs 90,000 tons. The CVN-78 is the lead ship in the Ford class of aircraft carriers, replacing some of the U.S. Navy’s existing Nimitz-class carriers. At first glance, both classes have a similar-looking hull, but the Ford class introduces a series of technical innovations designed to improve carrier’s operating efficiency, and reduce operating costs and crew requirements.
Instead of conventional steam catapults to launch jets, the supercarrier is outfitted with EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System), which is lighter and requires less space. It also needs less maintenance and manpower, and is more reliable and energy-efficient. EMALS can launch an aircraft every 45 seconds, 25% faster than its steam counterpart. Furthermore, since EMALS uses no steam, it’s a suitable candidate for launching drones and other electric vehicles.
The ship has Evolved SeaSparrow Missiles (ESSM) and Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM).
The USS Gerald R. Ford will operate with 2,600 sailors, 600 fewer than a Nimitz-class flat top. This alone saves the Navy more than $4 billion in ownership costs over each ship’s 50-year life, when compared with contemporary Nimitz aircraft carriers.
The ship is powered by two Bechtel A1B nuclear reactors, each capable of producing 300 megawatts of electricity, triple that of Nimitz-class reactors.
The CVN-78 will thus have the power reserves that the Nimitz class lacks so it will be able to add free-electron lasers and dynamic armor, at some point in the future.
Dynamic Armor or Electric Armor is a type of armor which has been proposed for the protection of ships from shaped charge weapons. The idea is that the system uses a strong electric field to disrupt the jet of ionized gas produced by the warhead. The system has been proposed as an upgrade to the Gerald R. Ford-class supercarriers.