US ‘super carrier’ Gerald R. Ford begins sea trials

The US's largest and most advanced aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford has begun its first sea trials this week.

The USS Gerald R. Ford is the US's largest and most advanced aircraft carrier. Image courtesy of the US Navy.
The USS Gerald R. Ford is the US’s largest and most advanced aircraft carrier. Image courtesy of the US Navy.

The USS Gerald R. Ford, which is designed to be the first ship of a whole new class of aircraft carriers, is one of the US Navy’s most ambitious projects.

Built by Huntington Ingalls Industries, the ship is among the largest military vessels ever constructed and contains a number of new and advanced technologies.

These, as well as some of the more mundane features of the ship, will be tested in the coming days as the US Navy carries out what it calls ‘builder’s sea trials’.

“The Navy and our industry partners are excited to have the future USS Gerald R. Ford underway under her own power for the first time, executing a rigorous and comprehensive test program for this first-of-class ship,” said Rear Adm. Brian Antonio.

“This milestone is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication, and we look forward to learning a great deal during sea trials. We will continue to work together to deliver Ford’s critical capabilities to the fleet.”

The Ford-Class aircraft carriers are designed with two nuclear reactors, producing 250% more electricity than their predecessors.

This massive energy boost is intended not for propulsion, but rather to power a number of high-tech weapons systems. These include a newly developed electromagnetic catapult system designed to better launch aircraft, as well the future possibility of defensive laser systems.

Additionally, the aircraft carrier will travel with a compliment of new F-35 Lightning II fighters produced by Lockheed Martin, regarded as the most advanced military aircraft in the world.

Carrying a cost

Despite the USS Gerald R. Ford nearing completion, the project itself has not been without its fair share of problems.

The largest of these is the carrier’s cost, which is now estimated to be approximately $13bn, far in excess of the original planned price of $10.5bn.

Moreover, the ship itself is years behind schedule. Originally construction was to be completed by 2015, however, due to a number issues, this saw significant delays. Now, according to the Navy’s current schedule the USS Gerald R. Ford will not be fully operational until 2021.