An F/A-18F Super Hornet flies over the USS Gerald R. Ford
The late 20th century was a time of supreme American confidence and rapid innovation. The Cold War was drawing to a close, the digital age was around the corner, and the Pentagon saw an opportunity to capitalize on peacetime and begin preparing for future conflict. With few diplomatic or military distractions, the United States ushered in a revolution in military technology.
Out of that boom period came ambitions for a new class of aircraft carrier headlined by the transformational USS Gerald R. Ford, a ship featuring an expanded flight deck, a boosted power plant, and support for almost two dozen emergent technologies. Expectations were high. The Ford’s nuclear reactor and propulsion system would triple the electrical power of the preceding Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. Its state-of-the-art weapons elevators would move 20,000 pounds of munitions at speeds of 150 feet per minute compared with the Nimitz’s speed of 100 feet per minute. Its new launch-and-recovery system would be able to handle 270 planes in a single day. From bow to stern, the ship’s innovations—designed to save time, costs, and crew—would revolutionize the way the U.S. military built and used carriers. The Ford would be a symbol of American superiority, one that would project power to American adversaries for five decades of dependable service.
But after two decades of development and delays, the audacity that conceived the Ford seemed to usher its doom. Expected to save the military $4 billion during its life span, the Ford has actually cost billions more than initial estimates. First expected to deploy in 2018, it has been projected to deploy as far out as 2024. When the ship reached the Navy after construction, it was already two years behind schedule, with work outstanding on thousands of items.
Frankly, I think building new aircraft carriers is a waste of time and money. Even though – for a short spell – I worked on their construction. But, that was another story, another time and place. Today, even the few other nations capable of building military craft this size also can crank out hypersonic missiles, “carrier killers” for about $20 million apiece.