The US Navy’s first Gerald R Ford-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) has left Huntington Ingalls Industries‘ (HII) dry dock to move into the James River, Virginia, US, for further integration and evaluation.

The ship was moved by HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) division to the shipyard’s Pier 3 with the help of six tugboats, to continue additional outfitting and testing over the next 28 months.

Besides completing habitability spaces, such as berthing and mess processes, NNS will also evaluate the distributive, mechanical and combat systems, including catapults and radar arrays installed onboard the vessel.

NNS CVN 78 carrier construction vice-president, Rolf Bartschi, said the milestone provides the shipbuilding team with an opportunity to reflect on all of the hard work they did to ready the ship for launch.

Under construction in the dry dock since November 2009, the 1,092ft-long Gerald R. Ford was formally christened earlier this month.

"The ship was moved … with the help of six tugboats, to continue additional outfitting and testing over the next 28 months."

Fitted with a new nuclear power plant, a redesigned island, electromagnetic catapults, improved weapons movement and an enhanced flight deck for increased aircraft sortie rates, the Ford-class carriers are designed to replace the US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

Expected to reduce total ownership cost by $4bn compared with the Nimitz-class carriers, the vessels also feature the Raytheon built-evolved Sea Sparrow missile (ESSM) to strike against high-speed, highly manoeuvrable anti-ship missiles and a rolling airframe missile (RAM) close-in weapon system.

Also comprising John F Kennedy (CVN 79), and Enterprise (CVN-80), the 100,000t Ford-class ships will be capable of operating up to 90 aircraft, including the F-35 joint strike fighter, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, E-2D, EA-18G Growler, MH-60R/S helicopters and unmanned air vehicles.

Gerald R Ford is scheduled to be delivered to the navy in 2016.

Image: US Navy’s Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier leaves dry dock for additional outfitting and testing. Photo: copyright of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Defence Technology