NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The future USS Gerald R. Ford cost nearly $13 billion and took more than eight years to construct.
On Monday, members of the media got their first look at what will be the Navy’s first new carrier to join the fleet since the USS George H. W. Bush in 2009.
The new super-carrier is nuclear-powered, and features a larger flight deck as well as electromagnetic catapults. Early catapult testing failed in 2015, but the ship’s Commanding Officer Capt. Rick McCormack says he’s confident the new system is sound.
“It’s really about the envelope. It’s opening the envelope for future aircraft and future capabilities of the Navy and we’d otherwise be contained with a steam catapult system,” McCormack said.
The systems onboard the Ford are more automated than any ship ever before. That means fewer crew members are needed. Around 2,600 sailors will serve aboard the Ford, which is 600 fewer than the Nimitz-class carriers.
The Ford is more technologically advanced, too. Up on the bridge, for example, there’s no throttle — the ship is steered via touch screen. The captain’s view has changed as well. The tower he sits in, also called the island, is further back on the deck, making more room for aircraft to maneuver, with an end goal of increasing the daily number of sorties generated by the carrier.
“We’re always trying to stay a step ahead of the adversary and so I think we’ve done that with this carrier,” said the ship’s executive officer Capt. Brent Gaut.
The Navy says the Ford is expected to be operational in 2020. It could see its first deployment in 2021 or 2022. She’s expected to be commissioned in less than two weeks and then the ship will get underway for testing and receive its first aircraft, putting that new catapult system to the test.
“The systems I think, in theory, are just phenomenal and designed to perform a certain way,” said Capt. Gault. “And now the challenge is to be able to go out and make sure they are able to meet the mark and they allow us to do what we need to do, which is put the ship in harm’s way and go out and fight the fight. So we need to make sure we get there first.”