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A first-in-class US Navy supercarrier is about to set sail on its maiden deployment for the first time in over 40 years

Business Insider logo Business Insider 9/29/2022 rpickrell@businessinsider.com (Ryan Pickrell)
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) transits the Atlantic Ocean, March 26, 2022. US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jackson Adkins © US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jackson Adkins The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) transits the Atlantic Ocean, March 26, 2022. US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jackson Adkins
  • The US Navy is ready to deploy a new first-in-class supercarrier for the first time in over four decades.
  • The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford will set sail on its maiden deployment next week from Hampton Roads, Virginia.
  • The Ford's first deployment comes four years after the ship was first expected to deploy.

The $13 billion lead ship of a new class of advanced US Navy aircraft carriers is about to finally set sail on its first deployment after years of costly setbacks and delays that have at times made it the target of fierce criticism.

The first-in-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, which was commissioned over five years ago and has been over a decade in the making, will deploy for the first time next week on a short, service-retained deployment, Vice Adm. Daniel Dwyer, US 2nd Fleet commander, told reporters.

During the Ford's time deployed at sea, thousands of personnel, 17 ships, one submarine, and at least 60 aircraft from nine countries will participate in military exercises in the Atlantic, an area of increasing strategic significance.

The deployment to the Atlantic will come amid heightened tensions between the US and Russia and growing competition at sea. The Navy reestablished 2nd Fleet just four years ago to address emerging challenges in the region.

"The Atlantic, especially for US 2nd Fleet headquarters, is an area of strategic importance, not only for the US and our allies and partners to strengthen the transatlantic link between North America and Europe, but also for homeland defense," Dwyer said.

"In this era of strategic competition, we can no longer assume that geography provides us with the protection and standoff that we've had in the past," he said.

Emphasizing the role of training with allies and partners in advancing collective security, the admiral said that "not only is this a historic deployment for our first Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier," but it also matters that "we are coming together with eight allied navies to operate together throughout the Atlantic."

During the upcoming deployment, which is aimed at giving the ship a chance to find its footing before a more extensive operational deployment next year, Carrier Strike Group 12 will deploy under the control of the chief of naval operations and the command of US 2nd Fleet.

Deployed assets are typically directed by combatant commanders. A service-retained deployment, which is less common, is an opportunity to "figure out what is the best way to use the ship," Bryan Clark, a former Navy officer and defense expert at the Hudson Institute, told Insider.

"You have generations of sailors that have come up with only one kind of carrier," he said. "But now, you've got this new ship that is completely different" in terms of how quickly it can get its planes airborne and other capabilities.

"There are a lot of new opportunities that the Navy has not really had a chance to work through because the focus has been on testing and getting the basics established," Clark said. "They know everything works on the ship and basically how to run it, so now the question is what are the best ways to exploit the new capabilities."

Experimenting is not necessarily something the Navy would want to attempt while trying to meet a combatant command's operational demands though. Those kinds of deployments strain and break even proven gear and systems.

"When we go out and sail on the high seas, it is a thing just to launch and recover aircraft every single day, to have the battle rhythm of command and control throughout the carrier strike group," the Ford's commanding officer, Capt. Paul Lanzilotta, told reporters on a call. "We're going to refine all that with our team."

"We're going to eat three square meals a day, we're going to fly aircraft, we're going to do air defense, we're going to do long-range maritime strike," he further explained.

"It is really a stepping-stone kind of approach from my perspective. It is a chance for us to really find areas where we can improve," the captain said.

Lanzilotta added that the crew will be looking at areas where "maybe we can take our technology that much further and get better" than some legacy systems.

Dwyer said that the deployment "is an opportunity for the Navy to come together with other members of the NATO alliance to exercise and train within the Atlantic and its littorals while testing out advanced technologies on the first new class of US aircraft carrier in more than 40 years."

An EA-18G Growler, assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, prepares to land aboard USS Gerald R. Ford's (CVN 78) flight deck. US Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Ruben Reed © US Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Ruben Reed An EA-18G Growler, assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, prepares to land aboard USS Gerald R. Ford's (CVN 78) flight deck. US Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Ruben Reed

First maiden deployment of a first-in-class US Navy supercarrier in decades

USS Gerald R. Ford is the first ship in a class that will include at least three other ships which are in various stages of work, outfitting, and construction.

The last time a first-in-class US Navy supercarrier deployed for the first time was when the USS Nimitz, commissioned in 1975, deployed the following year.

And just as the Nimitz represented an improvement over the conventional Kitty Hawk-class carriers and the Enterprise-class, the first carrier class to use nuclear power, the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford features 23 new technologies designed to give it an edge over its predecessors.

Onboard systems like the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear, for example, are expected to facilitate improved sortie generation and better aircraft launch and recovery. Dwyer said this week that the Ford's crew has already executed over 10,000 catapult launches and carrier landings.

It has hardly been smooth sailing for the Ford, which has seen costly technological integration issues with the weapons elevators, catapult malfunctions, and other problems over the years.

In 2019, a year after the carrier was first expected to deploy, Rep. Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat and Navy veteran, sharply criticized the sea service and shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries for its mishandling of the project and argued the Ford was essentially a "$13 billion nuclear-powered berthing barge."

Last year, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday acknowledged that the Navy overloaded the carrier with too many new technologies, which he said "increased the risk" of this carrier being delivered late and over budget.

The carrier is now finally ready to deploy though. "Everything is on track," Rear Adm. Gregory Huffman, who will command the Ford Carrier Strike Group on its maiden deployment, told USNI News last year.

His remarks followed the successful completion of explosive shock trials last summer, when the Navy detonated multiple 40,000-pound bombs near the Ford to test its ability to handle the shock of actual combat, and came as the Navy made necessary repairs.

"Getting the Ford-class out there with its capabilities is basically just going to increase the number of carriers and carrier strike groups that we have available to meet the demands," the admiral said.

"When you couple that with the projected increase in what the Ford should be able to do," he said, "that's going to just provide the combatant commanders and other folks with just more options and more things at their fingertips that they can use."

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