U.S. Commissioning New Class of Supercarrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) Tomorrow

UK, China and U.S. Launch New Carrier Classes in 2017, Russia Lags Behind.

The U.S Navy and Newport News Ship Building Company officially commissioned a new class of “supercarrier” advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier tomorrow at the Norfolk Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia.

The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is the first ship in this new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy. It is the first major redesign of U.S. aircraft carriers in 42 years.

Among a long list of new engineering features on board USS Gerald R. Ford are the controversial electromagnetic catapults and arresting gear, a new, smaller, lower radar cross section island structure, larger and more efficient flight deck facilitating faster aircraft launching, more than twice the electrical power of previous carrier classes and a more efficient crew compliment with 500 fewer personnel on board. The massive 1,106-foot-long carrier displaces a staggering 100,000 tons fully loaded and is powered by two new generation nuclear reactors.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been critical of the costs of the program, especially the new electro-magnetic catapult and arrestor take-off and landing systems. The benefits of the new systems are claimed to be less buffeting of aircraft upon launch resulting in better control and less airframe fatigue per launch and recovery. The electromagnetic catapults are also lighter in weight than steam catapults in use on current U.S. carriers and are claimed to require less maintenance than steam-powered launch and recovery systems.

It’s worth noting that some problems have already occurred in launch testing on other carriers with the U.S. Navy’s version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the larger wingspan, folding wing F-35C. The problems may have been limited to test launches with no weapons loads and required modifications to F-35C landing gear. Depending on the status of these issues the Navy’s F-35C may benefit in particular from electromagnetic catapults.

CF-03 FLT 182/CF-05 FLT 91 First Arrestment aboard USS Nimitz on 03 November 2014. CDR Tony Wilson was flying CF-03 and LCDR Ted Dyckman was flying CF-05.

This year has been noteworthy for new international aircraft carrier operations.

On Jul. 17, 2017, the Royal Navy launched the first of its new Queen Elizabeth Class of aircraft carrier. The HMS Queen Elizabeth (RO8) is the first of two carriers in this new class that will include the second vessel, the HMS Prince of Wales (RO9) when it is launched in 2020.

HMS Queen Elizabeth uses non-nuclear electric propulsion that burns primarily diesel fuel. This is a lower cost alternative to the U.S. nuclear powered carrier. HMS Queen Elizabeth is a smaller carrier than its new U.S. counterpart, and intended to operate with a compliment of thirty-six F-35B V/STOL aircraft and four helicopters. The vessel is currently configured without launch catapults, but is engineered to be “backwards and forwards compatible” for retrofitting of a catapult launch system. The vessel is also smaller than its U.S. counterpart, the new USS Gerald R. Ford. The HMS Queen Elizabeth is 920 feet long compared to the USS Gerald R. Ford’s 1,106 foot length. It also displaces “only” 70,600 tons compared to the Ford’s 100,000+ tons of displacement.

A Royal Navy Merlin helicopter was the first aircraft to fly from the deck of the England’s new HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Photo: Daily Telegraph)

The Chinese have also been vigorous in their carrier development program with the recent launch of the impressive Type 001A, their first indigenous construction carrier. Previous Chinese aircraft carriers were purchased second-hand, mostly from Russia, and served primarily as development testbeds for aircraft, crews and likely doctrine.

This first domestically built Chinese carrier, likely to be named “Shandong”, was officially launched in Dalian, Liaoning province, on Apr. 26, 2017. The Type 001A “Shandong” uses a ski-jump style launch system and an arrestor cable recovery.

A Chinese J-15 makes an arrested landing on the carrier Liaoning. (Photo:USNI)

There have been recent photos of Chinese J-15 aircraft with updated landing gear that is both reinforced for carrier landings and, most interestingly, a catapult bar on the nose wheel. The new version of the J-15, referred to frequently as the “J-15A”, is considerably reworked to include not only the landing gear modifications but new engines and avionics.

A new version Chinese J-15A appeared with catapult launch capable landing gear. (Photo: Chinese Media)

A Jul. 6, 2017 report filed on Chinese media reported that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, or “PLAN”, is conducting land-based testing on a new electromagnetic catapult similar to the one already installed on the new U.S carrier Gerald R. Ford.

Satellite images showing a land-based catapult launch test facility at Huangdicun Airbase in Liaoning Province, China. The U.S. Naval Institute, an intelligence publications resource, reported that satellite imagery showed two types of catapults located at the Huangdicun facility beginning in late 2014, one steam and one electromagnetic. This base also houses China’s J-15 aircraft on land.

Finally, with news of new aircraft carriers from the United States, China and England an assessment of Russia’s current aircraft carrier capabilities suggests they are lagging behind.

Russia deployed its only carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, to the eastern Mediterranean in fall of 2016 in support of operations in Syria. The results could accurately be described as “mixed”.

Kuznetsov, an old ship originally launched in 1985, lost two if its only fifteen aircraft to accidents including an embarrassing one when one of Russia’s most experienced pilots was forced to ditch his aircraft next to the carrier due to problems onboard that prevented him from landing. He was ordered to hold in the landing pattern so long while addressing the onboard recovery problem that his aircraft eventually ran out of fuel. The pilot ejected next to the carrier and was recovered. The aircraft was one of two lost on the Russian adventure to the Mediterranean in support of the President Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.

The Admiral Kuznetsov has had previous problems on its only seven deployments since 1990.

In 1996, the ship’s potable water distillation system failed and, embarrassingly for the Russians, the U.S. Navy came to the aid of the vessel, supplying fresh drinking water to the crew.

Back in 2015 Russia announced insights into a proposed new, very large aircraft carrier class in the 100,000 ton “supercarrier” range. Russian Deputy-Director of the Krylov State Research Center told IHS Jane’s that the project was being called “Project 23000E” or “Storm”. Budget constraints, Russia’s support of the war in Syria and economic concerns have all but cancelled progress on the project. The most recent intelligence suggests Russia was attempting to partner with India to share development costs in the hopes of India eventually acquiring one of the new class of proposed Russian supercarriers for its own navy.

Russia’s carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is beginning to show its age. (Photo: RT)

 

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About Tom Demerly 512 Articles
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.

16 Comments

  1. I wouldn’t say the Chinese got carriers from Russia and copied Russian carrier doctrine. Although they did get the Minsk from Russia (turned into a theme park), as well as the Melbourne from Australia (scrapped), their biggest carrier purchase, the Varyag, was purchased in half-built state from Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union and refurbished into the Liaoning (Type 001). Then it was reverse engineered and the Chinese built the Type 001A on their own. Chinese carrier operations have been modeled on US carrier operations as can be seen by the deck crew.
    Also although the QE and its sister ship could be refurbished to install catapults (originally it was planned to be a joint UK/French design and the French insisted they wanted catapults), the expense involved in doing so, plus the severe budget cuts the UK has been doing to defense, mean both will stay in this configuration. The French were supposed to build a new nuclear powered aircraft carrier but after this French president was elected, considering the budget cuts he’s doing, the chance of that happening in the nearby future are quite slim.

    The Chinese EMALS developer claims their system could be used in the next carrier series the Chinese will build. Supposedly they stopped the construction process, with some modules having been manufactured already, to possibly retrofit EMALS into the design. Still some claim their next conventional carrier series (Type 002) will have steam catapults and only the series after that (Type 003) would have both EMALS and nuclear propulsion.

    • The QE class was never planned to be a joint design with France and never was. It was a purely British affair. All of the design work for Thales was carried out in Bristol by BMT. The only French involvement was when they desired to build a second carrier, the PA.2 programme, they asked the British for access to the design in order to design PA.2. They were charged £100m for this, but later withdrew when PA.2 was cancelled.

      You’re getting yourself confused with the Eurofighter Typhoon. France was originally a member of the consortium but withdrew to develop Rafale as they wanted it to be carrier capable (and have a French engine and lots of other things). The French at one time did want to create a nuclear powered carrier, but the realisation that the CdG was a poor design and the huge costs and negligible benefit of nuclear power meant that PA.2 was to be conventional.

      There isn’t going to be a second French carrier. It sailed away with PA.2..

  2. When 10 aircraft carries and 9 amphibious assault ships still didn’t help U.S. win the war against terrorism and when the number of those ships isn’t enough to beat even North Korea or Iran, then is pretty naive to think 1 more carrier could change something, just more and more taxpayers’ money are wasted on things that represented a major threat during WWII but not now.

      • But when aircraft carriers can’t help win the war against terrorism, against some regional powers, then for what purpose they are build? For war with major powers like Russia or China? That’s the polio you are talking about? Sorry, but countermeasures against Carrier Strike Groups existed already in 60-70’s, not to mention those countermeasures that exist now and those that will come in near future.

        • Andwe can Russia not even winning anything…

          Lastly, the US hasn’t officially declared war to a country or anything since the 40’s. So they are limited at what they can do. But Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, America won all of them. Including North Korea.

          • U.S. dares to invide only small regional powers without nuclear capabilities, once some enemy has even a small nuclear arsenal, U.S. do nothing except some sanctions which don’t help much anyway. Just look at North Korea, they are laughing U.S. right in the face and still continue with their nuclear program. The same can by say about the Iran.
            Btw, U.S. lost the Vietnam war and then communist governments took power in South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

            • And the world laughs at Russia.

              Curiously, North Korea has China on its back, unless you want a nuclear war, then this should be dealt diplomatically.

              Either way, China is buckling with US pressure.

              The US won, left Vietnam and South Vietnam alone managed to resist for a few years.

              But defeat, let’s just laugh at Russia in Afghanistan

              • World has no time for laugh when there is a risk of global war everyday. The majority wants rather good relations with major military powers like Russia than go against it. Only fools can think someone could stand a chance against a nuclear superpower.

                Sure that China wouldn’t be happy about a war right next to its borders but there would be not many things what China could do if U.S. would decide to invade North Korea.
                But the risk of a nuclear war is still one of the main reasons why U.S. can’t so simply make a military intervention there even despite those claims about how decades ahead U.S. Army is.

                Btw, whom has Iran on its back when U.S. didn’t dare to do any military actions there as well? Do you remember when U.S. advanced stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel drone crash landed in Iran and Iran captured it and refused give it back? U.S. wasn’t surely happy that its top secret stealth technology ended in hands of Iranians (and likely also in hands of Russians and Chinese) but still U.S. had no other choice than deal with this loss.

                https://theaviationist.com/2012/08/16/chinese-delegation-rq170/

                https://theaviationist.com/2013/02/06/footage-sentinel/

                U.S. understood it can’t beat North Vietnam because of constant support of USSR, so they have withdrawn from Vietnam and lost for what they were fighting over 15 years, this wasn’t any win for U.S. at all. Communists later took control over the whole territory and that’s why Vietnam and Russia are allies and why they have good relations now.

                • So, after beating the North Vietnamese back into submission, and into the negotiating table, where they accepted peace, and America’s job was done, so they left, but North Vietnam breaking the accord 2 years later is a defeat?

                  I don’t think you know the definition of winning.

  3. Obviously they didn’t beat North Vietnam at all when Vietnamese with help of USSR were able to capture whole territory that U.S. was protecting all the time. So ask yourself again what U.S. reached there except that they killed millions of civilians.

    • 1. Agreement reached
      2. US won,
      3. US leaves
      4. 3 years later, North wins.
      How can you say the US lost if they were not even fighting when the North won?

      Yay for soviet meddling on other countries…

      • If the U.S. would win, then Vietnam would be now an ally with U.S. and not with Russia. The U.S. lost over 58,000 soldiers and didn’t even do anything when North Vietnam took control over those territories U.S. was protecting all the time. How can be this called a win.

  4. They didn’t stop because they still don’t have any replacement for Russian RD-180/RD-181.
    Probably you overlooked this http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Russia_to_Supply_Largest_Ever_Number_of_Space_Rocket_Engines_to_US_This_Year_999.html

    Antonov was founded yet in USSR and the founder was Russian, also the parts were comming to Ukraine from Russia all the time. After the Ukrainian crisis Russia stop supplies parts to Ukraine and therefore only active manufacturing plant capable to build these aircrafts is located in Russia, the Aviastar-SP. It is currently upgrading Russian fleet of An-124s.

    I’m not deny Russia buys Western stuffs, but Western companies such as Boeing and Airbus are also buying stuffs from Russia, for example raw titianium and titanium parts for their airliners.

    https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/airbus-signs-200-million-parts-supply-deal-with-irk-191977/

    http://www.airbus.com/company/worldwide-presence/airbus-in-russia/

    Also the manufacturing of Boeing 787 Dreamliner depends on many foreing companies that supply parts to the United States.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/boeing-787-dreamliner-structure-suppliers-2013-10

    Things like these are called coopearation, if you don’t know. It isn’t a shame when one country buys stuffs from another one as long as it regarding just to civilian purposes.

    As for the crashes, U.S. still leads.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36328582

    https://news.usni.org/2016/09/16/navy-investigation-concludes-fatal-blue-angels-crash-caused-pilot-error

    http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2016/07/30/marine-f-a-18-hornet-pilot-killed-in-california-crash-identified/

    http://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2016/08/02/f-a-18-hornet-crashes-during-training-in-nevada/

    http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article102927897.html

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/09/22/in-third-marine-aircraft-crash-in-two-months-a-harrier-jet-goes-down-off-japan/

    http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2016/10/26/marine-f-a-18c-crashes-at-twentynine-palms-pilot-safe/

    http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2016/11/09/marine-corps-2-f-a-18s-collide-off-san-diego-pilots-safe/

    http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2016/12/13/marine-osprey-crashes-near-okinawa-crew-members-rescued/

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