Engineering Destruction: The Terrifying and Awesome Power of The USS Gerald R. Ford
Andrew Wheeler posted on August 07, 2017 | 9048 views
The USS Ford at its commissioning ceremony. This ship is massive! At a length of 1,106 feet, the USS Ford is the largest aircraft carrier in the world and will carry 2600 crew members when it officially deploys in 2020. (Image courtesy of the US Navy.)
The USS Ford at its commissioning ceremony. This ship is massive! At a length of 1,106 feet, the USS Ford is the largest aircraft carrier in the world and will carry 2600 crew members when it officially deploys in 2020. (Image courtesy of the US Navy.)

The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is a whole new class of aircraft carrier. Officially commissioned by the U.S. Navy and Newport News Ship Building Company, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier represents the first major redesign to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in over four decades.

When a warship is commissioned, it is legitimized under law, and placed in active service for the first time. Replacing what was known as the Nimitz class of aircraft carriers, the USS Ford will spend its first four years under scrutiny as builder’s sea trials get underway.

The trials test crucial systems and technologies aboard the ship, and will cost USD $780 million on top of its USD $12.9 billion manufacturing price tag. There were delays and overruns because of the complicated task of integrating whole new systems and an entirely new class of technology aboard the ship, which was originally supposed to be completed in 2015 for USD $10.5 billion.

Designing a new class of aircraft carrier means that expectations for improved performance are going to be set extremely high, and you’ll see that the features of the USS Ford make it a true marvel of modern weapons engineering.

Interestingly, the USS Ford also appears to be a minor milestone moment for 3D modeling technology, because this is the first ship to be fully designed as a 3D model. The USS Ford has its own nuclear plant inside of it, which generates a consistent and high enough rate of energy that affords the vessel a top speed of 30 knots (34.5 mph, 55.5 km/h).

Nuclear warships like the USS Ford are designed to be fully autonomous. The amount of nuclear energy produced by the USS Ford means that it could run without stopping to refuel for 20-25 years.

Nuclear Upgrade

There are two A1B reactor plants (“A” is for Aircraft Carrier, “1” is first-generation, and “B” is for Bechtel, the manufacturer) aboard the USS Ford, and they were specially developed by Bechtel for the new class of supercarrier. Bechtel normally handles engineering and construction for nuclear plants in the USA.

The A1B generates almost 3 times as much power as the A4W reactor plants on the active Nimitz-class carriers. The exact number is classified, but estimates have been made that the total increase in energy is 700 MW.

Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) Versus Steam Catapult System

The US Navy began experimenting with the design and production of a launch system that uses linear induction motors and electromagnets instead of steam-powered turbines because engineers realized that you could improve three things: eliminate the need for housing a separate steam boiler, increase the level of control during jet or drone takeoffs, and reduce the amount of maintenance in two ways—using solid state components and reducing wear and tear on the supercarrier from repeated launches.

Picture taken after one of the first successful tests of EMALS, which is replacing steam catapult systems. (Image courtesy of Navy Times.)
Picture taken after one of the first successful tests of EMALS, which is replacing steam catapult systems. (Image courtesy of Navy Times.)

The reason electromagnetic catapults cause less stress is due the increased control over acceleration, allowing launches to be more gradual and steady than steam pumping through a turbine. This engineering improvement is interesting partly because it raises interesting questions regarding the safety and reliability of EMALS versus the traditional steam catapult system, which was implemented to replace the hydraulic systems used during World War II. Unfortunately at this time, it is hard to make comparisons with available data.

3D model design rendering of the USS Gerald R. Ford(CVN-78). The first total redesign and reengineering of the supercarrier class is also the first aircraft carrier to be fully designed and represented by 3D modeling software. (Image courtesy of US Navy.)
3D model design rendering of the USS Gerald R. Ford(CVN-78). The first total redesign and reengineering of the supercarrier class is also the first aircraft carrier to be fully designed and represented by 3D modeling software. (Image courtesy of US Navy.)

Flight Deck Redesign

The USS Ford has a five-acre flight deck with a smaller island that has been moved toward the rear of the ship, providing more room for airplane maintenance. The weapons elevators are like the new EMALS catapult system in that they use electromagnetic fields instead of cables, and have horizontal doors that also help reduce manpower needs and maintenance costs.

The infrastructure is flexible and can be adapted to changes by reconfiguring compartments to optimize for different missions, saving time and money while avoiding the costly re-work that would create bottlenecks in the Nimitz-class carriers.

The infrastructure is flexible and can be adapted to changes by reconfiguring compartments to optimize for different missions, saving time and money while avoiding the costly re-work that would create bottlenecks in the Nimitz-class carriers. (Image courtesy of US Navy.)
The infrastructure is flexible and can be adapted to changes by reconfiguring compartments to optimize for different missions, saving time and money while avoiding the costly re-work that would create bottlenecks in the Nimitz-class carriers. (Image courtesy of US Navy.)

Besides the EMALS system, the USS Ford comes equipped with new advanced arresting gear which weighs less than the traditional system, has software controls and requires less people to run it efficiently.

Another addition is multifunction radar and volume search radar, a system which combines two radars operating on different frequencies for tracking, airborne intercept, search, target illumination and missile guidance.

Designing and Engineering More Efficiency

The USS Ford is a 21st century feat of design and engineering. The ability to fully redesign a whole new class of aircraft carrier afforded engineers new opportunities to create new efficiencies. Besides eliminating the steam catapult system and all its steam turbine-powered auxiliaries, the design was also an example of component optimization. Eliminating up to half the valves, 70 sea chests (rectangular or cylindrical recesses in the hull, for drawing and piping water), one hanger bay and one aircraft elevator.

The dry-docking interval has been extended to 12 years. Air-conditioning has been improved across the whole ship, which means less dirt, dust and moisture levels with an amazing total of 9,900 tons blasting through the ship.

Steam heating was also ditched in favor of electric water heaters, which has the design impact of eliminating a huge piping network that would stretch across the ship in the Nimitz-class carriers. Light bulbs were upgraded to LED lights for battle lanterns, which increases the effectiveness of each battery on each lantern.  The lighting aboard the USS Ford includes 44,000 fluorescent T-8 light bulbs, which last about two times as long as the previous bulbs.

Cargo elevators have been installed instead of cargo conveyors which allow sailors to move pallets of materials faster, and cutting out unloading and redistribution of material through vice pallets. The elevators are now designed to send material directly to the best location, in a concerted effort to end cross ship material transportation. (Image courtesy of US Navy.)
Cargo elevators have been installed instead of cargo conveyors which allow sailors to move pallets of materials faster, and cutting out unloading and redistribution of material through vice pallets. The elevators are now designed to send material directly to the best location, in a concerted effort to end cross ship material transportation. (Image courtesy of US Navy.)

The sheer volume of materials needed to complete the USS Ford is astonishing: over 4 million lbs. of weld metal, 4 million feet of fiber optic cable, and 200,000 gallons of gray paint, for example. Internally, to keep its crew alive and well, the supercarrier produces 400,000 gallons of fresh water and 15,000 meals every single day.

Armament

Besides carrying over 75 warplanes, the USS Ford has some serious destructive capability. Engineers and designers included ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile), RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile), and a Mk-15 Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapon System).

ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile): These missiles have an incredible ability to protect ships from both missiles and enemy aircraft. Four SSMs can be packed into Mark 41 Vertical Launch Systems, and fired at complex attacking entities like supersonic maneuvering anti-ship missiles.

RAM (Rolling Airframe Missiles): These small surface-to-air missiles are named because it spirals around its longitudinal axis like bullets out of spiraled barrels. It travels at Mach 2.0, has a range of 5.6 miles, costs USD one million each, and has a 25-lb. blast fragmentation.

Mk-15 Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapon System): This system is also designed to counterattack anti-ship missiles. A radar-guided 20mm Vulcan cannon is the last line of automated weapons defense against attacking aircraft and anti-ship missiles. Incredibly, this automated sentinel shoots armor-piercing tungsten rounds at a rate of 4500 bullets per minute and is designed to pierce a missile’s airframe, rendering it less aerodynamic, keeping shrapnel explosions contained and limiting collateral damage to the crew and the carrier itself.

Though it will be a few years before the USS Ford is in active duty while undergoing an array of sophisticated weapons and integrated systems testing, the opportunity to redesign a new class of aircraft carriers certainly afforded ship designers, engineers and mechanics to create a masterpiece of modern naval warfare.


Recommended For You