For more than 40 years, Nimitz-class aircraft carriers have dominated the seas. However, the world has changed drastically since USS Nimitz (CVN 68) first launched, creating new operational demands for aircraft carriers. It is time for the U.S. Navy’s new Ford-class aircraft carriers, the first of which will launch later this year.
In addition to its devastating offensive combat capabilities, Ford-class aircraft carriers will operate in an environment with multiple layers of sophisticated air and sea defense systems and weapons, making the ship virtually invulnerable to enemy attack.
The first layer of defense is the aircraft carrier’s speed and the vastness of the oceans in which it operates. In a 30-minute period, the carrier may be steered anywhere within a circle measuring 700 square miles. With its new nuclear propulsion, the Ford-class carrier can maneuver at maximum speed — 30+ knots (34.5+ miles per hour) — for weeks. As long as the carrier remains in open ocean, the ability of an adversary to find and target it will be severely limited. In addition, the carrier version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be able to carry a heavier bomb load significantly greater distances, allowing carriers to operate much further out to sea while still accomplishing missions.
The second layer of defense is a very large air, surface and subsurface maritime dominance area created by the Carrier Strike Group in which the carrier operates. This exclusion area is mobile, allowing it to move with the carrier, and is created by the cruisers, destroyers and submarines of the strike group.
The carrier and aircraft from the carrier will be equipped with the world’s most sophisticated air defense systems. The latest version of the carrier-based E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft will provide improved detection sensitivity against threats, and the enhanced electronic warfare capability of the jamming of the F18G Growler will further complicate the enemy’s targeting problem.
Should the first two long-range layers of defense be unsuccessful at protecting the carrier, the carrier itself will be equipped with a powerful and sophisticated self-defense network, including:
- Two launchers with 16 Raytheon Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles
- Two launchers with 21 Raytheon Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM)
Finally the U.S. Navy’s new Ford-class is designed with the most survivable hull of any combatant in the world. The nuclear aircraft carrier is significantly less vulnerable and certainly more survivable than a fixed land base, making it a best-value investment for the national security of our country. With its ability to operate anywhere in the world’s oceans from a sanctuary created by the Carrier Strike Group, policymakers will continue to rely aircraft carriers for prompt, sustainable power projection for the foreseeable future.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Navy)