Comparing old- and new-school U.S. flattops

The $13 billion supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), the inaugural ship of her class, has been underway for the past week or so in the Atlantic with the bulk of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 along for the ride– her largest aircraft embark to date— trying to work out some persistent bugs (more on that in a minute) but in doing so has was part of an amazing 40+ photo ex with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), whose strike group is returning home from a crazy long 270+ day cruise with 5th and 6th Fleet.

(U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ruben Reed and Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Riley McDowell/Released)

The 4 June passing was the first time a Ford-class and a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier have operated together underway.

The ships are near dead-ringers in size and general layout. Truman, the eighth Nimitz-class ship (last of the Flight II/Theodore Roosevelt subclass), was commissioned 25 July 1998 while Ford has been extensively working up since 2017.

Note that Ford has nearly 30 aircraft on deck, mostly Rhinos.

Both carriers tip the scales at around 100,000 tons and are the same general overall length within about a Volkswagen’s Beetle worth of difference (1,092 ft. on Truman, 1,106 ft. on Ford).

Unseen below deck, Truman carries a pair of older Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, while Ford has newer Bechtel A1B nuclear reactors, with the latter reportedly cranking out about 25% more power while having a smaller footprint.

The islands are extremely different.

Truman carries AN/SPS-48E 3-D and AN/SPS-49(V)5 2-D air search radars along with a host of ATC and landing radars. Ford is equipped with AN/SPY-3 and AN/SPY-4 active electronically scanned array multi-function radar and her island is both 20 feet taller than that of the Nimitz class and is 140 feet further aft while being a yard closer to the edge of the ship (watch your step!)

Of note, the Navy was able to wave the banner of having seven carriers at sea at the same time for a couple weeks, anyway. Also a rarity.

Controversially, Ford has two other things that the proven steam-catapult equipped Nimitz class does not: the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which is supposed to boost the number of sorties she can generate per day by 25 %, and advanced weapons and aircraft elevators. The thing is, both systems are buggy as hell, with the Navy basically being the Beta Tester on them.

For example, on June 2, just prior to a scheduled flight deck operation cycle, the ship’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) went down. Loss of EMALS curtailed flight operations to some extent, but the Strike Group, ship, and air wing team still accomplished significant goals scheduled for the Ford-class aircraft carrier.

After several days of troubleshooting and assessing a fault in the launch system’s power handling elements, embarked EMALS experts and Ford’s crew restored the system to enable the safe fly-off of the air wing on Sunday morning, June 7.

Five days with no catapult is for sure no Bueno for a carrier, although she was able to eventually pull off, “day and night cyclic flight operations totaling 324 catapult launches and arrested landings, qualifying 50 pilots,” during the weeklong period.

The weapons generator seem to be working a bit better:

200530-N-NX070-1123 ATLANTIC OCEAN (May 30, 2020) Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to the weapons department aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) bring inert training bombs up to the flight deck during flight operations, May 30, 2020. Ford is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting integrated air wing operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist RJ Stratchko/Released)

The air wing’s embark provided the first opportunity for Ford’s weapons department to execute a full ordnance movement using a lower stage weapons elevator. Performing as advertised, Ford’s AWEs conducted more than 1,300 cycles during this latest at sea period that enabled the successful transfer of 176 inert bombs in support of air wing operations. Ford’s AWEs have conducted over 10,000 cycles to date.

On the bright side, Ford was able to verify that her tactical data links are working and she embarked a strike group commander recently.

As noted:

Commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 also embarked on Ford during this underway, marking the first time a Strike Group Commander and staff embarked on Ford for operations. CSG-12 was able to successfully conduct all intended command and control operations, control and distribute the link picture, and coordinate with Ford and Truman Strike Group assets as well as higher headquarters. Rear Adm. Craig Clapperton, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 assessed that the Strike Group and ship are ahead of schedule in this important command and control domain.

Most importantly, at least they got a Final Countdown photo for the cruise book…

200607-N-NX070-1076 ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 7, 2020) The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) steams through a storm in the Atlantic Ocean June 7, 2020, before disembarking Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, following successfully integrated air wing operations. Ford is underway conducting an independent steaming event. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist RJ Stratchko/Released)

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