When the USS Gerald Ford is commissioned into service next weekend, it will be opening a new era in the storied history of the American aircraft carrier.
And as the first of a brand-new class of ships — an improvement on the Nimitz-class carrier of the Navy’s present — it could be opening a new era in American military history, too.
“This ship will make an extraordinary addition to the fleet, like no other, like no other,” President Donald Trump said on a tour of the ship in Norfolk, Virginia, in March. “Anywhere in the world, there’s nothing like this. It represents the future of naval aviation.”
It was no exaggeration.
As Breitbart reported after a media tour of the ship prior to the July 22 commissioning:
“The Ford will be the first new class of carrier in more than 40 years and is designed to be more lethal, more technologically advanced, and more efficient, with a better quality of living for sailors.”
In terms of being more lethal – the absolute first priority of any weapon of war – the Ford boasts a flight deck designed to increase the number of sorties the ship can launch by 33 percent over the Navy’s current Nimitz-class carriers.
Planes returning to the carrier will be able to be rearmed, refueled and repaired faster – the faster to return to the air to deliver death to America’s enemies.
The ship’s commanding officer, Navy Capt. Richard McCormack, put it bluntly:
“The more bombs I get over the target area, the more lethal I am,” he told reporters Monday.
And those planes are being powered into the air with an advanced catapult system that uses electromagnetic power instead of steam – an upgrade that is designed to not only use less space and be more energy efficient, it also requires less manpower to operate.
Changes like that – spread throughout the state-of-the-art ship – cut the crew requirements for the Ford by a staggering 600 sailors compared to the present complement aboard Nimitz-class carriers.
With about 4,300 officers and enlisted personnel, the Ford still represents a small, floating city, but that city’s citizens are going to have more personal space – and creature comforts — than their comrades aboard other ships, even those on the USS George H.W. Bush, the last of the Nimitz-class carriers, which was commissioned in 2009.
As a Norfolk Daily Press reporter who also attended Monday’s tour put it:
“Below decks, living quarters are designed with more comfort in mind, with handy USB ports to charge portable phones and other devices. Sailors no longer have to walk down a hall to hit the showers. The bathroom sinks are carbon fiber, and there are no urinals, which saves money and makes it easier to move male and female sailors to different areas.”
None of that – not the military lethality or the personal comfort – is coming cheap of course. And the $13 billion warship has been beset by construction delays and cost overruns that have added almost $6 billion to the vessel’s original cost projection, according to a Stars and Stripes report from 2015.
But in the same article, an assistant Navy secretary acknowledged the expense but noted that designing and building the first new class of aircraft carrier in 40 years – the first aircraft carrier that’s truly of the 21st century – was going to have unforeseen costs.
That man is now acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley. And his description of the Ford two years ago is just as true today. The ship, he said, “will be the centerpiece of the carrier strike group of the future.”
And even in a world where there’s no shortage of old enemies and rivals to take on, a new era is opening.
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