Why the Navy's New Ford-Class Aircraft Carriers Should be Feared

Kyle Mizokami

Key point: The new Ford-class is more powerful and survivable than the previous Nimitz-class carriers.

In 2009, the U.S. Navy finally began construction of the first new type of aircraft carrier in nearly thirty-five years. Named after former president and naval aviator Gerald R. Ford, the USS Ford fully takes the nuclear supercarrier into the twenty-first century. The technological innovations built into the new ship, while causing the inevitable delays involved in building a first-in-class vessel, will keep the Navy’s unique fleet of super flattops the largest and most advanced in the world for the foreseeable future.

USS Ford follows in the steps of the highly successful Nimitz-class carriers. Construction began in 2009 at Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, Virginia—the same location where the Ford’s predecessors were built. Indeed, the Ford class resembles the Nimitz ships in many ways: they measure 1,106 feet long versus the Nimitz’s 1,092 feet. Both classes weigh the same: approximately one hundred thousand tons fully loaded. Layout is similar, too, with an island on the starboard side, four catapults and an angled flight deck.

The ship is powered by two new-design AB1 nuclear reactors. The reactors are manufactured by Bechtel, which beat out longtime naval reactor giants General Electric and Westinghouse for the reactor contract. Together, the two reactors create six hundred megawatts of electricity, triple the two hundred megawatts of the Nimitz class. That’s enough electricity to power every home in Hampton, Virginia; Pasadena, California; or Syracuse, New York.

Ford is going to need that power, not only to reach its estimated top speed of thirty-plus knots but also the new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which uses electric currents to generate strong magnetic fields that can quickly accelerate an aircraft to takeoff speeds. The system is touted as easier on aircraft, extending their service lives, easier to maintain in general and capable of generating up to 25 percent more sorties than the older steam catapult system.

The new carrier will also use a new system to land aircraft. The new Advanced Arresting Gear uses a water turbine and induction motors to halt the momentum of landing carrier aircraft. Like EMALS, the AAG is expected to be more reliable than the existing aircraft arresting system on Nimitz-class ships and easier on airframes.

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