The Gerald R Ford-class carriers have a full-load displacement of approximately 100,000t. Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Isaac Esposito/Released.
The US Navy's Gerald R Ford-class future generation aircraft carrier. The first ship, CVN 78 was delivered in May 2017.
CVN 21 design features an enhanced flight deck with increased sortie rates, a redesigned island and a new nuclear power plant.
CVN 21 will be armed with the Raytheon Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, which defends against high-speed, highly manoeuvrable anti-ship missiles.
General Atomics EMALS Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, which uses a linear electromagnetic accelerator motor, will replace the current C-13 steam catapults.
Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) will replace the USS Enterprise (CVN 65), which entered service in 1961 and decommissioned in 2017.
CVN 21 will carry up to 90 aircraft, including the F-35 joint strike fighter, the F / A-18E / F Super Hornet, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, the EA-18G, MH-60R / S helicopters, UAVs and UCAVs.
CVN 21 carrier will be able to arm, refuel, launch and recover aircraft more quickly.
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is the lead ship of the class. Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ruben Reed/Released.

The CVN 21 US Navy programme for the future-generation aircraft carrier 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)

The first ship in the class, USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78), was delivered to the US Navy in May 2017 and commissioned in July 2017.

The second carrier, USS John F Kennedy (CVN 79), was christened and launched in December 2019. The vessel is scheduled to be commissioned in 2020, while 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.

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 and $1.39bn contract in May 2004. It also provided $559m to prepare for the carrier construction and continue the design programme on the ship’s propulsion system.

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 on board the carrier was completed in June 2014, while the US Navy conducted EMALS testing on CVN 78 in May 2015. The CVN 78 returned to Newport News for post-delivery works in July 2018.

Newport News won a contract to support further repair work on the lead ship. The contract covers execution planning for the repair and alteration requirements of the ship’s planned incremental availability.

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 would be called John F Kennedy.

Construction of the USS John F Kennedy (CVN 79) began in February 2011 and its keel was laid in July 2015. The carrier will undergo outfitting and testing at Newport News shipyard’s Pier 3 ahead of its scheduled delivery in 2022.

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 also received a $3.35bn contract for the ship’s detailed design and construction in June 2015. The keel for CVN 79 was laid in August 2015.

USS Enterprise (CVN 80) and CVN 81

HHI’s Newport News was awarded a $152m contract in May 2016 for advance planning engineering, design and procurement of long-lead-time material for the third ship of the class, USS Enterprise (CVN 80). A $25.5m modification contract was awarded for advance fabrication of the aircraft in February 2017.

“Northrop uses a suite of CAD tools for the CVN 21 programme.”

The first steel was cut for the CVN 80 aircraft carrier in August 2017. CVN 80 is built using the steel of USS Enterprise (CVN 65), which was decommissioned in April 2018.

It is the ninth ship to be named USS Enterprise and will replace USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN 69) when commissioned.

Newport News received a $15.2bn contract modification in January 2019 for the detail design and construction of CVN 80 and CVN 81. The company expects to deliver the carriers in 2028 and 2032 respectively.

CVN 21 future aircraft carrier design details

With a displacement of approximately 100,000t, the Gerald R Ford class will be larger than its predecessor, the Nimitz-class, but will have between 500 and 900 fewer crew members. The Ford-class ships will have 23 new or upgraded systems compared to the Nimitz-class carriers.

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 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.

Newport News 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. It carries the stern-facing joint precision approach and landing system (JPALS), which is based on the 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 to reduce 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 enabling 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. Removal of one aircraft elevator unit and reducing the number of hangar bays from three to two contributed to a weight reduction of the CVN 21.

Weapons of Gerald R Ford class

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 (CIWS) is the rolling airframe missile (RAM) from Raytheon and Ramsys.

Gerald R 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, as well as unmanned air and combat vehicles.

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 led to design changes in the flight deck.

The flight deck has a relocated smaller island, while there are three rather than four deck-edge elevators. Deck extensions also increase the aircraft parking areas. 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 stress levels in the aircraft and pilots, 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 was 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 the aircraft fuselage.

General Atomics and the US Navy completed successful turbo-prop arrestments of C-2A Greyhound, E-2C+ Hawkeye, and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft using the advanced arresting gear (AAG) during performance testing in 2018. The AAG system also completed the first exploratory barricade arrestment test with an E-2C+ Hawkeye aircraft in March 2019.

Aircraft weapon 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.

Weapons elevators take the weapons systems from the magazines to the weapons handling and 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 create designs for the advanced weapons elevator are the Federal Equipment Company and Oldenburg Lakeshore.

Deployment of all-up-rounds that are larger rather than traditional weapons that need assembling will require double-height magazines and storerooms and will also impact the demand for weapon 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 required 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 developed an advanced nuclear propulsion system with two reactors, four shafts and a zonal electrical power distribution system for the CVN 21.

Fairbanks Morse received a contract to supply emergency diesel generator sets for CVN 80 and CVN 81 carriers in February 2019.