After many delays and setbacks, the most expensive warship the world has ever seen has finally been put through its initial paces. Costing a whopping $12.9 billion, the USS Gerald R. Ford departed from the coast of Virginia for its first sea trials in order to test various state-of-the-art equipment onboard.
The enormous vessel has been plagued by delays and ran over budget, but finally headed out to sea from Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News. Construction of the ship began in 2009 on a budget of $10.5 billion and was due for completion by September 2015. Constant setbacks with the carrier’s aircraft landing equipment and power generation among others, made the ship almost $2.5 billion more expensive than anticipated and delayed its launch by close to a year.
Built to replace the USS Enterprise which was in service from 1962 to 2012, approximately 5,000 shipbuilders involved in the construction of the 100,000 ton USS Gerald R. Ford relied only on 3D computer-modelling for its design. The end result was a vessel with a five-acre flight deck and the capacity to hold 4,660 personnel and 75 aircraft. Furthermore, the 1,106-foot long ship will be capable of launching 220 airstrikes per day from its two runways, yet will appear almost invisible to radar detectors.
Currently undergoing ‘builder’s trials’, the ship will soon return to port in Virginia before heading out again, this time embarking on ‘acceptance trials,’ on that occasion undertaken by Navy inspectors. These initial tests come almost a year after a memo was released citing “poor or unknown reliability issues” with the ship.
The memo, dated June 28, was written by Defense Department Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Michael Gilmore and was intended for the Pentagon and Navy weapons buyers. Among several claims, the memo stated that there were four major issues plaguing the USS Gerald R. Ford and that “Unless these issues are resolved, which would likely require redesigning, they will significantly limit the CVN-78’s ability to conduct combat operations. Based on current reliability estimates, the CVN-78 is unlikely to conduct high-intensity flight operations at the outset of a war.”
Now completed with the aforementioned issues resolved, if the USS Gerald R. Ford successfully passes all trials, the US will have the first of a fleet of three ships in the Ford class, vessels that use electromagnetic force to propel jets forward and capable of launching one airstrike almost every six minutes. The estimated cost of all three ships, one due for completion in 2020 and the other in 2025, is more than $43 billion.