Almost eight years after construction began on a new class of aircraft carrier, the first of three has been delivered to the Navy.
The service accepted the carrier Gerald R. Ford from builders Huntington Ingalls Industries Wednesday night, the Navy announced Thursday, bringing the ship a step closer to its commissioning later this summer.
“It was kind of a big night for us, from my perspective, having worked on Gerald Ford for most of the past 10 years,” Vice Adm. Tom Moore, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday morning.
“We just came back from a very successful acceptance trial,” he added, “and the Navy accepted delivery of the Ford last night.”
The Ford is the first new carrier for the service since the last of 10 Nimitz-class carriers, the George H. W. Bush, was commissioned in 2009. The Ford class is similar in size to the Nimitz class, but features a better-designed deck with a smaller island and fewer elevators, in order to accommodate more aircraft.
Several elements of brand-new technology, including the first-of-its-kind electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS, and advanced arresting gear, have contributed to now-infamous testing delays and budget overruns for the carrier.
The Ford was initially expected to be delivered in 2014, and more recently projected for delivery in early 2016. But that timeline slipped over the months with testing delays and concerns from the Pentagon’s weapons testing office that the new technology aboard the ship was not mature enough to fight with.
The carrier’s new technology, particularly its EMALS catapult system, entered the news again recently after President Donald Trump said in a Time magazine interview that he wanted to return to the legacy steam catapult system, saying the new technology is too expensive and doesn’t work well.
Service officials have said there are no plans to back down from electromagnetic technology for the next carrier, but outgoing Navy secretary Ray Mabus told reporters late last year he believed the new tech was pushed on the carrier too fast.
“New technology got pushed onto the [U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford] much faster than it should have been. That was a decision made by Defense Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld in 2002. All this new technology was put on three different successive carriers, and it was all unproven,” Mabus said.
“It’s going to be ready for the Ford to go into the fleet and to deploy, and it will be effective,” he said. “But it took a long time, because it was brand-new technology, and it shouldn’t have all been put on that first ship.”
The same issues also caused the carrier’s cost to balloon from $10.5 billion to nearly $13 billion over the course of development.
But the ship and the two carriers in the class that follow are expected to bring a range of new capabilities to the fleet.
According to Navy officials, the Ford will increase aircraft sortie rates by one-third and will generate three times the amount of electricity as previous classes.
Service officials considered pursuing a nuclear reactor system that would last for the 50-year life of the ship, Moore said Thursday, but ultimately decided that the cost of the technology was prohibitive. Regardless, he said, the Ford is expected to operate without refueling until 2040.
Ahead of its commissioning next month, the Ford will enter a “shakedown” period in which it will undergo a series of at-sea events, allowing the crew to train and familiarize itself with the ship’s systems.
The Navy plans to perform additional deferred work and identify remaining deficiencies during in-port periods. The Ford will becoming operational in 2020 after reaching initial operational capability, officials said.
The next carrier in the class, the John F. Kennedy, is in the late stages of construction and is expected to be commissioned by 2020.
“Congratulations to everyone who has helped bring CVN 78 to this historic milestone,” Rear Adm. Brian Antonio, program executive officer for aircraft carriers, said in a statement. “Over the last several years, thousands of people have had a hand in delivering Ford to the Navy — designing, building and testing the Navy’s newest, most capable, most advanced warship.”