The new ship was assigned to the US Second Fleet, whose area of responsibility includes the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean.
The carrier is escorted by the Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser Normandy, the Ohio-class nuclear attack submarine, the three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers Ramage, McFaul and Thomas Hudner, the Legend-class Coast Guard destroyer Hamilton, the USNS Joshua Humphreys tanker, and the Robert E. Peary ammunition cargo carrier, among other ships. .
On the deck of the nuclear aircraft carrier, aircraft of the Eighth Wing, which nominally includes 90 F-18 E / F Super Hornets, F-35С, E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes and EA-18G Growlers, as well as MH-60 Sierra and MH-60 helicopters sea hawk.
However, judging by the evasive statements of the representatives of the fleet, the air wing went to Europe not at full strength. This is due to the fact that the aircraft carrier has not yet been fully certified. For example, out of 11 freight elevators with an electromagnetic drive, only five received certificates of validity. The rest have only recently been refurbished and are being tested. They are used to move military cargo 20 times a day.
Laid down in November 2009 and launched four years later, in October 2013, the aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford proved to be an extremely problematic product. The situation was not saved even by the fact that the ship was designed for the first time in American shipbuilding in a 3D design system, which automatically detects inconsistencies.
For nine years, shipbuilders have been adjusting the work of all its systems. This affected weapons elevators, electromagnetic catapults, and even a system for removing human waste. And the radars proved to be so problematic that it was decided to develop a completely new set for future ships of the Gerald Ford class. In their report, the frustrated members of government oversight even wrote that this aircraft carrier is “an example of how not to build ships.”
Almost 18 billion dollars have already been spent and it is still unknown how much will be spent on fine-tuning. And this is the cost of only an aircraft carrier. The air wing and escort ships can easily pull on another 10 billion dollars. In any case, already now Gerald Ford is almost three times more expensive than its predecessor, the Nimitz aircraft carrier, although in terms of displacement, formally, it is almost the same - 100 thousand tons, and in terms of the number of aircraft on board.
But, perhaps, problems have arisen due to the applied new technologies. There are a total of 23 of them. First of all, two new A1B reactors developed for this aircraft carrier should be mentioned. They produce 25% more electricity than the power plant of the previous generation of aircraft carriers, and maintenance work has been cut by half. The energy generated is sufficient for propulsion engines and all equipment, including advanced weapons, in particular lasers. The reactor can operate without replacing the fuel rods for 50 years. This is the first nuclear reactor that will not require fuel refueling during the life of an aircraft carrier.
When creating the ship, special importance was attached to the automation of all processes. The labor intensity of maintenance of aircraft carrier devices and systems was reduced by 30%, which made it possible to reduce the crew, compared to Nimitz, by 500-900 people. The figure has not yet been finalized. The actual size of the required crew will be shown by the operation of the ship.
On the USS Gerald Ford, for the first time, electromagnetic catapults were installed instead of C-13 steam catapults. This catapult allows you to accelerate aircraft more smoothly, and, therefore, to avoid too heavy loads on the structure of the aircraft and, accordingly, breakdowns. As a result, compared to the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, the number of sorties increased from 140 to 160 per day, and in crisis situations - up to 220.
The controllers rejected the radar, but for the sake of completeness, a little should be said about it. The basis of the aircraft carrier's electronic equipment was the DBR dual-band radar system, which includes the AN / SPY-3 multifunctional radar operating in the X-band (it was created by Raytheon Technologies) and the Lockheed Martin VSR volumetric radar operating in the S-band. AN / SPY-3 performs target detection and tracking, missile control and target illumination in the final section of the trajectory of interceptor missiles. The VSR serves as a long-range vision and target designation for other radars and weapon systems.
Last year, the aircraft carrier was subjected to a series of severe tests. Near the ship, a total of about 18 tons of explosives were blown up. The hull withstood the strong hydraulic shocks resulting from the explosions. The air wing performed 3,480 takeoffs and landings, including 324 using catapults and an air finisher, and 50 pilots and the aircraft carrier's commander, Captain JJ Cummings, received permission to work with the ship.
USS Gerald Ford was originally supposed to be the first of ten super-carriers. However, problems with the ship and doubts about the advisability of creating such expensive platforms in connection with the advent of more advanced anti-ship weapons have led to the fact that today in the United States they are talking about only three new aircraft carriers of this class. In 2024, another president, John F. Kennedy, should join him, in 2028, USS Enterprise ("Courage"), and in 2032, Dorris Miller. Miller was not president. He was just a sailor in World War II, but the first African American to receive the Navy Cross.
The first aircraft carrier in the US Navy appeared a hundred years ago. It was the USS Langley. Then the novelty was received in the world with bewilderment. But the bet on aircraft carriers was explained by geography. The United States is remote from the main historical theaters of military operations, primarily Europe and Southeast Asia. Piston aircraft could not fly there from airfields in the United States, and Washington really wanted to have its say. Sites were required in close proximity to carry out airstrikes on targets in enemy territory. Aircraft carriers have become mobile airfields, the real power and significance of which is due to the presence of an air wing.
Today, the US Navy operates 11 aircraft carriers, ten of which are Nimitz-class. In Washington, they are still considered the centerpiece of the combat power of their fleet. And they serve as a spectacular means of demonstrating the power of the United States. And although the current aircraft carriers are larger and more modern, at the same time they have become more vulnerable.
High-precision ballistic anti-ship and cruise missiles, as well as hypersonic weapons, have appeared. American experts, who are revising American faith in expensive aircraft carriers, cite the Russian hypersonic missile Kinzhal as an example, against which there is nothing to defend against. This means that large aircraft carriers become an accessible target, wherever they are.
The threat from unmanned surface, underwater and flying vehicles is also growing rapidly. So, the future of offshore airfields is becoming more and more vague. However, the majority in Washington believes that nothing will change. The pride of the American Navy, aircraft carriers, will remain in demand, you just need to keep pace with new technologies for delivering and repelling strikes.
Gerald Ford will arrive in Europe with his retinue of 17 ships in mid-November. A series of exercises in the Atlantic is planned for everyone. They will be attended by land units and ships from Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, as well as Finland and Sweden. The program includes, in particular, air defense exercises, long-range strikes from the sea, distributed naval operations, and anti-submarine defense exercises. Ships will work out interaction with allies and so on.
Whether the aircraft carrier will enter the Baltic Sea is not reported. Do the Americans attach any particular importance to the deployment of a new aircraft carrier in the North Atlantic? Yes and no. Commander of the US Second Fleet, Vice Admiral Dan Dwyer, formulated the dispatch of an aircraft carrier to Europe as follows: “The Atlantic is a zone of our strategic interests ... Our main goal is to contribute to the establishment of peace, stability and conflictlessness in the Atlantic region with the help of the combined naval power of our allies and partners." In fact, he didn't say anything specific.
Is the US exerting psychological pressure on Russia? Undoubtedly. The strike group is powerful. It enters the zone of operational operations in the immediate vicinity of Russia. The group is focused on maintaining combat operations on land and can pose a serious danger if Washington does not exclude the direct intervention of its armed forces or the forces of NATO members in the conflict in Ukraine. But then the carrier group will become one of the first targets for a retaliatory strike.
Has the balance of power in Europe changed? By and large, no. More recently, the Second Fleet included five aircraft carrier groups. In 2012, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was decommissioned. So, USS Gerald R. Ford just makes up for the loss.
In addition, most of the American aircraft carriers, except for the USS Ronald Reagan, which is assigned to Yokosuka (Japan), are permanently based in the United States. The scheme of their actions looks like this. At least three aircraft carriers are located at various points in the oceans. At the moment, according to the monitoring of the US Maritime Institute, three aircraft carrier strike groups are deployed far from their native shores: USS Gerald Ford - in Canada, from where it will go to Europe, USS George HW Bush - in the Mediterranean Sea, and USS Ronald Reagan - in Japan.
Three more, as a rule, either return after being deployed to the base, or are preparing to go to sea on a rotation basis. The rest are under repair or modernization work. And it takes two to four years.