Gerald R Ford Class (CVN 78/79) – US Navy CVN 21 Future Carrier Programme, United States of America

US Navy CVN 21 Future Carrier

The US Navy's programme CVN 21 for the future-generation aircraft carrier programme was previously known as the CVN(X).

In January 2007, the US Navy announced that the new class would be called the Gerald R Ford Class.

USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) and USS John F Kennedy (CVN 79)

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Billions have been ploughed by the US and UK governments to ensure that they continue their claim to possess the most advanced navies in the world.

The first ship in class, USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) was delivered to the US Navy in May 2017, and will be operational by 2020. The second carrier, USS John F Kennedy (CVN 79), will be commissioned in 2024, and further ships of the class will enter service at five-year intervals. A total of ten Ford-class carriers are planned with construction continuing to 2058.

The CVN 78 will replace USS Enterprise (CVN 65), which entered service in 1961 and decommissioned in 2017. The total acquisition cost of the CVN 21 is expected to be $13.7bn.

The US Department of Defense awarded Northrop Grumman Newport News in Virginia a $107.6m contract in July 2003, a $1.39bn contract in May 2004 and $559m to prepare for the carrier construction and continue the design programme on the ship's propulsion system.

The CVN 78's first steel was cut in August 2005. A $5.1bn contract for the detailed design and construction was awarded to Newport News in September 2008. The keel was laid in November 2009.

The CVN 78 aircraft carrier was installed with four 30t bronze propellers in October 2013. Both the launch and first voyage of the ship took place in November 2013. Anchor testing aboard the carrier was completed in June 2014, while the US Navy conducted EMALS testing on CVN 78 in May 2015.

Northrop Grumman was awarded a planning and design contract for the second carrier, CVN 79, in November 2006. In May 2011, the US Navy announced that the carrier will be called John F Kennedy.

Construction of the USS John F Kennedy (CVN 79) began in February 2011 and is expected for completion in 2020.

Newport News was awarded a $407m contract extension for the preparation work on the CVN 79 ship in March 2013, and a $1.29bn extension in March 2014. It further received a $3.35bn contract for the ship's detailed design and construction in June 2015.

CVN 21 future aircraft carrier design

The Gerald R Ford class with a displacement of approximately 100,000t, will be larger than its predecessor, the Nimitz-class, but will have between 500 and 900 fewer crew members.

The manpower reduction was a key performance parameter added to the original four outlined in 2000 in the operational requirements document for the CVN 21 programme. It is estimated that the new carrier technologies will lead to a 30% reduction in maintenance requirements and a further crew workload reduction will be achieved through higher levels of automation.

The other main differences in operational performance compared with the Nimitz-class are increased sortie rates at 160 sorties a day (compared with 140 a day), a weight and stability allowance over the 50-year operational service life of the ship, and increased (by approximately 150%) electrical power generation and distribution to sustain the ship's advanced technology systems. Another key performance requirement is interoperability.

CVN 21 aircraft carrier hull

Since the 1960s, all US Navy aircraft carriers have been built at Northrop Grumman Newport News. Northrop has extended its design and shipbuilding facilities with a new heavy plate workshop and burners, a new 5,000t thick plate press, covered assembly facilities and a new 1,050t-capacity crane.

"Northrop is using a suite of CAD tools for the CVN 21 programme."

Northrop is using a suite of computer-aided design (CAD) tools for the CVN 21 programme, including a CATIA software suite for simulation of the production processes, and a CAVE virtual environment package.

The hull design is similar to that of the current Nimitz Class carriers and with the same number of decks. The island is smaller and moved further towards the aft of the ship.

The island has a composite mast with planar array radars, a volume-search radar operating at S band and a multifunction radar at X band, as well as carries the stern-facing joint precision approach and landing system (JPALS), which is based on local area differential global positioning system (GPS), rather than radar.

The aircraft carrier traditionally carries the flag officer and 70 staff of the carrier battle group. The flag bridge, which was previously accommodated in the carrier's island, was relocated to a lower deck in order to minimise the size of the island.

The ship's internal configuration and flight deck designs have significantly changed. The lower decks incorporate a flexible rapidly reconfigurable layout allowing different layouts and installation of new equipment in command, planning and administration areas.

The requirement to build in a weight and stability allowance will accommodate the added weight of new systems that will be installed over the 50-year operational life of the ship. The removal of one aircraft elevator unit and reducing the number of hangar bays from three to two have contributed to a weight reduction of the CVN 21.


The Gerald R Ford class will be armed with the Raytheon evolved Sea Sparrow missile (ESSM), which defends against high-speed, highly manoeuvrable anti-ship missiles. The close-in weapon system is the rolling airframe missile (RAM) from Raytheon and Ramsys GmbH.

Gerald Ford Class carrier aircraft

The carrier will be capable of carrying up to 90 aircraft, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F / A-18E / F Super Hornet, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, MH-60R / S helicopters and unmanned air vehicles and unmanned combat air vehicles.


Related projects

F-35 Lightning II
The F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF), is being developed for the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and the UK Royal Navy.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
The US Navy F/A-18 E and F Super Hornet maritime strike attack aircraft, manufactured by Boeing.

E-2C/D Hawkeye
The E-2C Hawkeye aircraft supplied by Northrop Grumman is as an all-weather airborne early-warning aircraft to the naval task force.

EA-18G Growler
The EA-18G Growler is an airborne electronic attack (AEA) aircraft which operates from either an aircraft carrier or from land-bases.

MH-60S Seahawk
The MH-60S Seahawk is a multimission helicopter based on the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter airframe.

The requirement for a higher sortie rate at 160 sorties a day with surges to a maximum of 220 sorties a day in times of crisis and intense air warfare activity, has led to design changes in the flight deck.

The flight deck has a relocated and smaller island, and there are three rather than four deck-edge elevators. Deck extensions also increase the aircraft parking areas. The aircraft service stations are located near the 18 refuelling and rearming stops.

General Atomics was awarded the contract to develop the EMALS electromagnetic aircraft launch system, which uses a linear electromagnetic accelerator motor. EMALS demonstrators were tested at the Naval Air Systems Command (NASC) Lakehurst test centre in New Jersey. It is planned that EMALS will replace the current C-13 steam catapults.

If successful, EMALS technology offers the potential benefit of finer aircraft acceleration control, which leads to lower stresses in the aircraft and pilots and provides a slower launch speed for unmanned air vehicles and allows a wider window of wind-over-deck speed required for the launch sequence.

The contract for the development of an advanced turbo-electric arrestor gear has been awarded to General Atomics. The electro-magnetic motor applies control to the synthetic arrestor cable to reduce the maximum tensions in the cable and reduce the peak load on the arrestor hook and on the aircraft fuselage.

Aircraft weapons loading

The flow of weapons to the aircraft stops on the flight deck was upgraded to accommodate the higher sortie rates. The ship carries stores of missiles and cannon rounds for fighter aircraft, bombs and air-to-surface missiles for strike aircraft, and torpedoes and depth charges for anti-submarine warfare aircraft.

"Sortie rates for the CVN 21 increased to 160 sorties a day compared with 140 a day for the Nimitz Class."

Weapons elevators take the weapons systems from the magazines to the weapons handling and weapons assembly areas on the 02-level deck (below the flight deck) and express weapons elevators are installed between the handling and assembly areas and the flight deck. The two companies selected by Northrop Grumman to generate designs for the advanced weapons elevator are the Federal Equipment Company and Oldenburg Lakeshore.

The deployment of all-up-rounds, which are larger, rather than traditional weapons requiring assembly will require double-height magazines and store rooms and will also impact on the level of need for weapons assembly facilities.

The US Navy outlined a requirement for a minimum increase of 150% in the power-generation capacity for the CVN 21 carrier compared with the Nimitz Class carriers. The increased power capacity is needed for the four electro-magnetic aircraft launchers and for future systems such as directed energy weapons that might be feasible during the carrier's 50-year lifespan.


In October 2008, Raytheon was contracted to supply a version of the dual-band radar (DBR) developed for the Zumwalt Class destroyer for installation on the Gerald R Ford. DBR combines X-band and S-band phased arrays.


Northrop Grumman is developing the advanced nuclear propulsion system and a zonal electrical power distribution system for the CVN 21.