Question: What do you get when you combine a massive, super-advanced aircraft carrier with some of the best fighter planes on the planet?
Answer: 100,000 tons of U.S. diplomacy.
Meet the USS Gerald Ford.
The Gerald Ford will be the lead ship of the Gerald Ford Class, which is an update to the Nimitz Class Navy Aircraft Carriers that have given the U.S. sea and aerial dominance around the globe for decades. It’s also slated to be the most expensive weapon ever created at around $11.5 billion– far and away the Navy’s most expensive warship.
Given recent Iranian provocations regarding the Persian Gulf and its threat to close the Straits of Hormuz, the possibility of a deteriorating Iraq in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, and the climate for another Arab-Israeli conflict, the need for “4.5 acres of mobile and sovereign U.S. territory” has perhaps never been more apparent.
Business Insider has put together some slides that show the design of the ship, and below you can also see some of the state-of-the-art fighter planes and missiles that will make the USS Ford the most tactically dominant naval vessel ever built.
Above is a 2004 artist’s rendition of the USS Gerald R. Ford, three years before construction began in 2007. Its design improvements include a larger flight deck, a new propulsion plant design that requires fewer personnel to operate and maintain, and a new smaller island that has been pushed aft.
Technological advances have led to the development of an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System, (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) which will allow 220 aircraft to be deployed each day.
Above is a cross-section sketch that gives a good overview of the Ford’s planned construction.
Of course, an updated multi-billion dollar carrier needs to have billions of dollars of the most advanced fighter planes on earth to transport and deploy.
FA-18 Super Hornet:
The Super Hornet is the aerial work horse of the U.S Navy’s fighter plane fleet. It is a twin-engine carrier-based multirole fighter aircraft, with an internal 20 mm gun and configurations of either air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface weapons.
The Super Hornet first flew in 1995, but full-rate production began in September 1997 to replace the somewhat outdated F-14 Tomcat (made famous in the movie “Top Gun”).
The fighter is basically a new plane in comparison to the original FA-18 hornet. The original intent was to use the Super Hornet until the the F-35C Lightning II could come online. But given the amount of service– and success– the Super Hornet has seen, it is likely to be a staple of aerial naval warfare for years to come.
Here is a video of the FA-18 Super Hornet taking off from a Carrier and doing a fly-by, courtesy of the US Navy and Airboyd.tv:
F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)
F-35C can be fired from the deck of a carrier by the EMALS system. Beyond that, it is a major upgrade over previous stealth aircraft technologies from a maintenance standpoint because it can survive much more hostile environments and is therefore able to operate from an aircraft carrier at sea.
The F-35C weapons system is also reconfigurable, which means “the internal weapons bay can set up all air-to-ground ordnance, all air-to-air ordnance or a blend of both. A missionized version of the 25 mm GAU-22A cannon is installed or removed as needed.”
When stealth is not required to execute a mission, the F-35C external pylons are loaded with ordnance, which means the airframe has a total weapons payload exceeding 18,000 pounds.
Here is a video of the F-35 getting launched by EMALS:
The Growler is a specialized version on the F/A-18 used for electronic warfare that entered service in 2009 will be deployed along with the Ford Class Aircraft Carriers.
The Growler reportedly can perform defensive and offensive electronic jamming functions, suppression of enemy anti-aircraft measures, and “non-traditional electronic attacks.” As fighter planes and bombers increasingly become unmanned, the electronic warfare functions of the E-18 Growler will only increase in importance on the modern battlefield.
And of course, in a pinch, its still an FA-18 platform, and can therefore perform traditional shoot-and-scoot and escort duties .
Raytheon’s RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile will be used to protect the Ford from attacking missiles and aircraft. It provides self-defense battlespace and firepower against high-speed, highly maneuverable anti-ship missiles.
Think of it like a more nimble version of the Patriot missile, fired from the deck of a Carrier.
The new Ford Class Carriers are currently being assembled in Newport News, Virginia. This 15-ton piece of a side-shell unit was the first slab of steel cut for the carrier during a 2005 ceremony:
The first keel assembly is put in place by cranes:
According to BI, this “945-ton superlift section of the carrier contains a diesel generator room, a pump room, an oily water waste pump room, 16 complete tanks and 18 partial tanks:”
This stern section was among the largest of the 162 sections that make up the carrier:
When it is finally complete, the Ford will be even bigger than the Nimitz Class USS Theodore Roosevelt, pictured above.
The USS Gerald Ford is set to join the U.S. Navy’s fleet in 2015, and is slated to replace the current USS Enterprise, ending her then 50-plus years of active service with the United States Navy.
(h/t Business Insider)