The US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier embarked on its first deployment Tuesday, a milestone for a ship that has struggled with some of the advanced technology it carries.
The USS Gerald R. Ford – which has cost more than $13 billion – will work with countries including Canada, France and Germany during a deployment that will include training in air defense, anti-submarine warfare and amphibious operations.
Live video on a US Navy Facebook page showed tugboats moving the gray-painted ship away from the pier at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.
The ship’s deployment will “demonstrate its unmatched multi-domain, full-spectrum lethality in the Atlantic,” Admiral Daryl Caudle said in a statement ahead of the ship’s departure.
The operation will involve 9,000 people, 20 ships and 60 aircraft from nine different countries, the US Navy said, without providing a breakdown by nation.
The carrier, which entered service in 2017, is huge – more than 335 meters long and displaces 100,000 tonnes (101,000 metric tons) when fully loaded. But it can still sail at speeds in excess of 34 miles (54 kilometers) per hour.
Named after the 38th US President, the ship requires hundreds fewer crew members than previous carriers and is designed to be capable of carrying futuristic energy weapons that are still in development.
A major improvement over previous carriers is said to be the speed at which planes can be launched and retrieved, but there were problems with the systems involved, according to a June 2022 report to Congress.
– Delayed deployment –
“The Navy expects to meet reliability targets in the 2030s,” said the Government Accountability Office’s report on the airline’s electromagnetic aircraft launch system and advanced arresting gear, adding that reliability issues “could prevent the ship from performing any of its… to meet the most important requirements – the rapid deployment aircraft.”
The ship’s gun elevators – which move missiles and bombs from magazines to the deck for loading onto planes – have also suffered problems.
“The ship’s initial deployment was delayed due to the need to complete work on the ship’s weapons elevators and to address other technical issues,” the Congressional Research Service said in a report updated in August, adding that the final elevator will be tested in late 2021 and has been certified.
As the Gerald R. Ford goes to sea and other similar carriers are in the works, there is debate as to whether new weapons such as anti-ship ballistic missiles have rendered such ships obsolete or will do so in the future.
Mackenzie Eaglen, senior fellow and defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute, argues their time is far from over given their deterrent role.
“The US military – most visibly through the US Navy … aircraft carrier strike groups – deters bad actors and chaotic wars first. If deterrence is lost, then we have a lot of equipment and bases that are vulnerable in the next conflict,” Eaglen said.
“While the US (seemingly constantly) debates the usefulness of the aircraft carrier, other nations are busy investing heavily in aircraft carriers – from India, China, France, Britain, Australia and Italy – which will bode well for the ship’s continued usefulness in both peacetime and peacetime.” speaks and war,” she added.