Finally, new US aircraft carrier takes to the seas

Trials of the world's most expensive warship are more than two years behind schedule

WASHINGTON • The first aircraft carrier built for the US Navy in 40 years - and at US$12.9 billion (S$18.2 billion) the world's most expensive warship - has finally begun sea trials, more than two years behind schedule.

The carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, with a displacement of 100,000 tons, set off from Newport News, Virginia, last Saturday for "builder's trials" to test on-board systems, including state-of-the art technologies that have been blamed for much of the delay.

These include launching and recovering aircraft, moving munitions on board, ship self-defence and conducting air traffic control, and were reported last June by Dr Michael Gilmore, the US Defence Department's director of operational test and evaluation, as affecting major areas of flight operations.

"Fixing these problems would likely require redesigning the carrier's aircraft launch and recovery systems," said Dr Gilmore in a report obtained by CNN.

The process could result in another delay for a ship that was expected to join the fleet in September 2014, he said.

Construction began in 2009 and the ship was officially named in 2013. Cost overruns have added up to US$3 billion to the original estimated cost of US$10.5 billion.

The warship is 332.85m long, with a 2.02ha flight deck, and a top speed of more than 30 knots, according to the US Navy.

When commissioned, it will carry 75 aircraft and up to 5,000 personnel. The Gerald R. Ford is designed to reduce the number of crew necessary, compared with its predecessors.

An estimated 220 air strikes a day can be launched from its two runways, with its stealth features said to render it almost invisible to radar detection.

The nuclear-powered ship is the first aircraft carrier designed with all-electric utilities, with its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System eliminating the need for steam power for the powerful catapult system used to launch aircraft into the air.

President Donald Trump took a look at the ship on March 2, declaring it to be a down payment on a future "great rebuilding of the United States military".

He said a major expansion of US military might mean having a 12-carrier navy. The US Navy currently has 10 older Nimitz-class carriers, although some will be retired with the introduction of the Ford class.

The USS Gerald R. Ford is named for the president who succeeded Richard Nixon in 1974.

The next carrier in the Ford class, the USS John F. Kennedy, is scheduled to launch in 2020. The third, the USS Enterprise, will begin construction next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2017, with the headline 'Finally, new US aircraft carrier takes to the seas'. Print Edition | Subscribe