Military Aviation

4 Things that differentiate Gerald R. Ford-class carriers from Nimitz-class carriers

The Gerald R. Ford-class is the replacement for Enterprise and Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

Aircraft carriers continue to be the centerpiece of America’s Naval forces necessary for operating forward. In times of crisis, the first question leaders ask is: “Where are the carriers?”

Often the presence of an aircraft carrier has deterred potential adversaries from striking against US interests. Aircraft carriers support and operate aircraft that engage in attacks on airborne, afloat and ashore targets that threaten free use of the sea and engage in sustained power projection operations in support of US and coalition forces.

The Nimitz and Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers are the largest warships in the world, each designed for an approximately 50-year service life with just a single mid-life refueling.

The Gerald R. Ford-class is the replacement for Enterprise and Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. The lead ship, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), was commissioned in 2017. The Gerald R. Ford-class will be the premier forward asset for crisis response and early decisive striking power in a major combat operation.

How do Gerald R. Ford-class carriers differ from Nimitz-class carriers?

According to an interesting post available to read here, the 4 biggies are:

  • Two reactors that generate 600MW of electrical power vs 200MW in Nimitz class.
  • An electromagnetic catapult that can generate 25% more sorties than the Nimitz’s steam system as well as a dozen electromagnetic weapons elevators.
  • An AEGIS-style X-Band AN/SPY-3 Aegis radar and the S-Band Volume Surveillance Radar capable of search, track and multiple missile illumination, detecting enemy aircraft and missiles.
  • Two Mk. 29 missile launchers with eight ESSM each, and two Rolling Airframe Missile launcher and four Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems for point defense against aircraft, missiles and small ships.
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While the EMALS cats have had some issues during testing, and received some bad press from former elected leaders, experienced Naval aviators and profession squadron maintenance officers have commented that the EMALS will “dramatically reduce stress on existing and future airframes, allowing for longer service lives, lighter weights, and require less fuselage and empennage maintenance” on Naval aircraft.

Improvements aboard CVN 78 will be carried forward to the next carriers of the class: John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), Enterprise (CVN 80) and Doris Miller (CVN 81). Each ship in the class will save nearly $4 billion in total ownership costs during its 50-year service life, compared to the Nimitz-class.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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