The US Navy redoubles the capacity of its aircraft carriers
The US Navy (USN) aircraft carrier USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78), in the foreground, and USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN 69), are photographed in transit together in the Mediterranean Sea in November 2023

The US Navy is accelerating delivery of its new Ford-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers just as there has been demonstrated greater strategic and operational need for the capability provided by an aircraft carrier, said the executive director of the Aircraft Carrier Program Executive Office ( PEO) of the USN at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium in Arlington, Virginia.

In his speech at the event, Justin Meyer also highlighted the advantages for the United States that the US Navy buys, builds and operates aircraft carriers in pairs.

“The demand for aircraft carriers has never been greater.”

“Recently, we have had both USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan in the West, as well as USS Gerald R Ford and USS Dwight D Eisenhower operating ‘dual carrier’ operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.” In the latter case, the Ford was deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Eisenhower to the North Arabian Sea to provide a deterrent presence as the crisis between Israel and Hamas escalated.

Justin Meyer, executive director of the US Navy Program Executive Office

Meyer said these operations demonstrated how carrier capabilities were being used to respond to the needs of the Navy and Combatant Commands, as well as the world’s evolving security requirements. “Aircraft carriers are essential to this end,” he added.

Ford (CVN 78) is the first of a new class of aircraft carriers acquired to replace the in-service Nimitz-class ships (including Vinson, Reagan and Eisenhower). The Ford entered service in 2017 and has been operating since the end of 2022.

The next Ford-class aircraft carrier to come off the production line is the John F. Kennedy. “It’s more than 90% finished,” Meyer said. “We have delivered 2,000 spaces, which is about 80 percent [of the ship’s spaces].” The aircraft carrier is currently undergoing combat systems testing, with 15 of the planned 19 combat systems delivered to date. Testing of the ship’s aircraft launch and recovery equipment – the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) and advanced landing gear (AAG) – is scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2024.

The ship’s new radar consists of an active electronically scanned array system based on Raytheon’s Enterprise AN/SPY-6(V3) air surveillance radar. According to Meyer, this radar capability will also be installed on the US Navy’s in-service aircraft carriers: this may occur during replenishment and complex overhaul (RCOH) work.

Specific lessons are already being learned early in the construction of the Ford class, as demonstrated in the construction of the Kennedy. “The biggest thing we’ve done recently was review our post-delivery strategy and incorporate part of what was going to be a pretty extensive post-shakedown availability (PSA) package,” Meyer explained. Consequently, he continued, “When we deliver the vessel, we do it as an ‘all-round’… We don’t deliver the vessel and then have a prolonged PSA period.” This means, Meyer explained that the aircraft carrier is delivered with core capabilities, such as its F-35 aircraft operations, “ready to go.”

The next two Ford aircraft carriers to come off the production line are the Enterprise (CVN 80) and the Doris Miller (CVN 81), which are being acquired as part of a “two-ship purchase.” We are pursuing the “two-ship strategy,” which is “design once, build twice,” Meyer said.

Enterprise, laid down in August 2022, is now 35% complete, with more than 20,000 tonnes assembled in dry dock. “At the time of the keel laying… about a year and a half ago, it was about 4,000 tons: so more than 20,000 tons [added] in just under a year and a half,” said Vice Admiral James Downey, commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).

In the case of Doris Miller, construction work is 13% complete, and keel laying is scheduled for 2026. In this sense, Meyer noted that “the advantage of purchasing two vessels is that we have been able to “We purchased much of the material for ’81 much earlier than we were able to do it for ’80, ensuring that critical material for the sequence will be in place and meet shipyard need dates.”

“While there has been some pressure on the ’80 timeline, what we’ve been doing is [looking at] what we can do differently to make sure we don’t have cascading impacts into ’81 and beyond,” Meyer continued. “One of the things we’ve done recently has been to upgrade the Newport News dry dock, adding another intermediate gate, allowing us to complete the 80 while simultaneously building the 81. So, not having a day-to-day slippage and being “capable of essentially building two aircraft carriers at the same time.”

“There aren’t many places in the world where you can build two aircraft carriers in a dry dock,” added Vice Admiral Downey.

In conclusion, Meyer said, the PEO has been “[taking] the innovative approach of questioning how we have always built aircraft carriers to ensure that we are meeting the mission of the aircraft carrier, which is to deliver ships at an affordable cost, on time and ready to The mission.”

Lee Willett