Is the Navy’s Next Gen Aircraft Carrier Already Outdated?
Roopinder Tara posted on July 25, 2017 | 5144 views
USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. (Image courtesy of www.jeffhead.com.)
USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier.
The $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford was just commissioned to the U.S. Navy by President Donald Trump as a “100,000-ton message to the world” to make “America’s enemies shake with fear” while at the same time being “an incredible work of art.”

The next-generation nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is a thoroughly awesome weapon system.
Operating from the center of a strike force in deep waters around the globe, a carrier and the war planes it carries are capable of raining incredible destruction. No nation wants to see a carrier strike group appear uninvited on the horizon. But the U.S. Navy was not feeling secure that the existing aircraft carriers (Nimitz class, which were launched in 1972) were up to the threats we would see in the next 40 years.

And so, the new Ford class of carriers was launched. 

What Makes the USS Gerald R. Ford so Formidable?

  • Nuclear powered; can sail 20 years without refueling
  • Advanced dual band radar; 6 to 10 spinning radar domes have been replaced by a single six-faced radar with no moving parts
  • Electromagnetic catapults replace steam-powered catapults; can launch aircraft as little as 45 seconds apart; electrical systems are also replacing other steam-powered systems
  • 85 to 90 fixed-wing planes (including F/A -18s) and helicopters
  • Coming soon: laser weapons and a drone squadron
Biggest Target?

While previous carriers were a mess of antennas and whirling radar dishes, the USS Gerald R. Ford looks a lot neater. Its dual band six-faced radar should be more effective against near air threats. Whereas old warships hedged against big manned aircraft threats (Kamikazes, cruise missiles, fighter jets from land and other carriers) from large militaries, the new world is one of multiple, cheap threats that can come as a surprise out of nowhere. Such threats could be in the form of a disguised fishing boat powered by an outboard motor that is guided by a suicidal pilot, or a swarm of drones. According to the Wall Street Journal, several countries in the Middle East and Africa are buying military drones from China. Aircraft carriers operate surrounded by a ring of ships whose main task seems to be to keep the carrier afloat, knocking out all the threats they can detect. 

Having to devote so much of its own might to its defense will cause some to question if the carrier has much left over for an offense. But the U.S. Navy is nevertheless proud of saying that it has not lost an aircraft carrier since World War II, and even if defense is all consuming, it is worth it. An aircraft carrier sunk by a random act of violence would be unbearable, a David and Goliath story writ large. 

It just can’t happen.

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