USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)
Gerald R. Ford on the James River in November 2013.
|Namesake:||Gerald R. Ford|
|Awarded:||10 September 2008|
|Builder:||Huntington Ingalls Industries|
|Cost:||$12.8 billion + $4.7 billion R&D (estimated)|
|Laid down:||13 November 2009|
|Sponsored by:||Susan Ford|
|Christened:||9 November 2013|
|Class & type:||Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier|
|Length:||1,106 ft (337 m)|
|Beam:||256 ft (78 m)|
|Height:||nearly 250 ft (76 m)|
|Propulsion:||2 × A1B reactor|
|Range:||Unlimited distance; 20-25 years|
|Armament:||Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile
Rolling Airframe Missile
Close-in weapons system (CIWS)
|Aircraft carried:||More than 75|
|Notes:||Electromagnetic aircraft catapult (not steam), gender neutral lavatories|
PCU Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is to be the lead ship of its class of United States Navy supercarriers. As announced by the U.S. Navy on 16 January 2007, the ship is named after the 38th President of the United States Gerald R. Ford, whose World War II naval service included combat duty aboard the light aircraft carrier Monterey in the Pacific Theater.
The keel of Gerald R. Ford was laid down on 13 November 2009. Construction began on 11 August 2005, when Northrop Grumman held a ceremonial steel cut for a 15-ton plate that forms part of a side shell unit of the carrier. She was christened on 9 November 2013. The schedule calls for the ship to join the U.S. Navy's fleet in 2016. Gerald R. Ford will enter the fleet replacing the inactive USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which ended its 51 years of active service in December 2012.
In 2006, while Gerald Ford was still alive, Senator John Warner of Virginia proposed to amend a 2007 defense-spending bill to declare that CVN-78 "shall be named the USS Gerald Ford." The final version signed by President George W. Bush on 17 October 2006 declared only that it "is the sense of Congress that ... CVN-78 should be named the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford." Since such "sense of" language is typically non-binding and does not carry the force of law, the Navy was not required to name the ship after Ford.
On 3 January 2007, former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that the aircraft carrier would be named after Ford during a eulogy for President Ford at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. Rumsfeld indicated that he had personally told Ford of the honor during a visit to his home in Rancho Mirage a few weeks before Ford's death. This makes the aircraft carrier one of the few U.S. ships named after a living person. Later in the day, the Navy confirmed that the aircraft carrier would indeed be named after the former President. On 16 January 2007, Navy Secretary Donald Winter officially named CVN-78 the USS Gerald R. Ford. Ford's daughter Susan Ford Bales was named the ship's sponsor. The announcements were made at a Pentagon ceremony attended by Vice President Dick Cheney, Senators Warner and Levin (D-MI), Major General Guy C. Swan III, Bales, Ford's other three children, and others.
The USS America Carrier Veterans Association (CVA) had pushed to name the ship USS America. The CVA is an association of sailors who served aboard USS America (CV-66), which was decommissioned in 1996 and scuttled in the Atlantic as part of a damage test of large deck aircraft carriers in 2005. Eventually, LHA-6 was named America.
On 10 September 2008, the U.S. Navy signed a $5.1 billion contract with Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Newport News, Virginia, to design and construct the carrier. Northrop had begun advance construction of the carrier under a $2.7 billion contract in 2005. The carrier is being constructed at the Huntington Ingalls (formerly Northrop Grumman) Newport News Shipbuilding facilities in Hampton Roads, Virginia, which employs 19,000 workers.
The keel of the new warship was ceremonially laid on 14 November 2009 in Dry Dock 12 by Ford's daughter, Susan Ford Bales. Said Bales in a speech to the assembled shipworkers and DoD officials: "Dad met the staggering challenges of restoring trust in the presidency and healing the nation's wounds after Watergate in the only way he knew how — with complete honesty and integrity. And that is the legacy we remember this morning."
As of August 2011, the carrier was reported to be "structurally halfway complete". In April 2012, it was said to be 75 percent complete. On 24 May 2012, the important milestone of completing the vessel up to the waterline was reached when the critical lower bow was lifted into place. This was the 390th of the nearly 500 lifts of the integral modular components (from which the vessel is assembled) that the ship's construction will ultimately require. On 8 October 2012, the carrier reached over the 88 percent of the complete structural construction. Huntington Ingals reported (in a 8 Nov. 2012 GLOBE NEWSWIRE press release) that they have "Reached 87 percent structural completion of CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford". By 19 December 2012, construction had reached 90 percent structural completion. "Of the nearly 500 total structural lifts needed to complete the ship, 446 have been accomplished."
On 9 April 2013, the flight deck of the carrier was completed following the addition of the ship's upper bow section, bringing the ship to 96 percent structural completion.
On 7 May 2013, the last of 162 superlifts was put in place, bringing the ship to 100 percent structural completion. Remaining work that needs to be done includes hull painting, shafting work, completion of electrical systems, mooring equipment, installation of radar arrays, and flooding of the dry dock.
On 11 July 2013, a time capsule was welded into a small room just above the floor, continuing a long Navy tradition. The time capsule holds items chosen by President Ford's daughter, Susan Ford Bales, and includes sandstone from the White House, Navy coins, and aviator wings from its first commanding officer.
The ship was originally scheduled for launch in July 2013 and delivery in 2015. Production delays meant that the launch had to be delayed until 11 October 2013 and the naming ceremony until 9 November 2013, with delivery in February 2016.
On 3 October 2013, Gerald Ford had four 30 ton, 21 ft (6.4 m)-diameter bronze propellers installed. The installation of the propellers required more than 10 months of work to install the underwater shafting.
On 11 October 2013, the ship's drydock was flooded for the first time in order to test various seawater-based systems. Her launch date was set to be on the same day as her naming ceremony on 9 November 2013.
As of 2013, construction costs are estimated at $12.8 billion, 22% over the 2008 budget, plus $4.7 billion in research and development costs. Because of budget difficulties, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, has warned there may be a two year delay beyond 2016 in completing the Ford.
Gerald R. Ford is intended to be the first of a class of aircraft carriers that offer significant performance improvements over the previous Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Gerald R. Ford is equipped with a phased array radar, and an island that is shorter in length and 20 feet (6.1 m) taller than that of the Nimitz-class; it is set 140 feet (43 m) further aft and 3 feet (0.91 m) closer to the edge of the ship. Electromagnetic catapults (EMALS) will launch aircraft, eliminating the need to store water and heat it for steam catapults. Gerald R. Ford can accomplish 25% more aircraft launches per day than the Nimitz-class and requires 25% fewer crew members. The Navy estimates it will save $4 billion in operating costs over a 50 year lifespan. According to an Associated Press story:
"'She is truly a technological marvel,' Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said in a webcast ceremony at the Newport News, Va., shipyard where Gerald R. Ford is being built. 'She will carry unmanned aircraft, joint strike fighters, and she will deploy lasers.'"
However these performance enhancers have proven problematic in Pentagon tests. In January 2014, the annual Director, Operational Test, and Evaluation (DOT&E) report said that critical ship systems including the EMALS, Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), Dual Band Radar, and weapons elevators were not reliable enough and needed more testing and improvements. EMALS testing recorded 201 launch failures out of 1,967 launches, equaling a reliability rate of 240 mean cycles (launching of one aircraft) between critical failures. Testing of the AAG recorded 9 arresting failures out of 71 attempts, equaling a reliability rate of 20 mean cycles (recovery of one aircraft) between operational mission failure, a failure rate 248 times higher than should be expected. Those systems performed at a fraction of their requirements for shipboard configurations, and even less of required standards. Radar and weapons elevator test data was not made available, but were also below expectations. The Navy maintains that further testing will resolve the problems. The Gerald Ford is projected to be able to generate 30 percent more sorties than Nimitz-class carriers, but the DOT&E report claims that is too optimistic, though the Navy also maintains that assumption based on modeling and simulations. The USS Ford is planned to complete Initial Operational Test & Evaluation in 2017 before entering service.
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- This article includes information collected from the Naval Vessel Register, which, as a U.S. government publication, is in the public domain. The entry can be found here.
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