The U.S. Navy formally laid the keel of its second next-generation Ford-class aircraft carrier - the USS John F. Kennedy - at Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, Virginia over the weekend.
The USS Kennedy, also called CVN 79, is now under construction and slated to enter service by 2023. The new carrier is intended to play a key part in a new series of high-tech carriers designed to project naval power for the next 50 years and beyond.
The new Ford-class carriers are designed to progressively replace the existing Nimitz-class carriers on a one-for-one basis for decades to come; the Kennedy is the numerical replacement for the USS Nimitz, or CVN 68, which is scheduled for inactivation in 2025.
The Navy is currently testing and preparing the first Ford-class carrier, the USS Ford, to enter service next year while concurrently making early progress building the USS Kennedy. As of two weeks ago, the USS Kennedy construction is 11 percent complete, Navy officials told Military.com.
The USS Ford was widely criticized by lawmakers and analysts for multi-billion-dollar cost overruns that eventually brought the eventual price tag of the ship to $12.8 billion. Navy leaders have said learned many lessons from the program and that the unwanted cost growth on the Ford was due in part to the "first-in-class" type expenses of a new class of carrier. Many of the costs were part of what's called one-time, non-recurring engineering expenses designed to help the entire class of new carriers, service officials have added.
Senior Navy leaders and Huntington Ingalls Industries executives have made numerous public statements that lessons from the construction of the USS Ford were being harnessed and applied to the Kennedy effort as a way to control costs.
The Navy is committed to maintaining the cost of CVN 79 within the cap mandated by Congress of $11.5 billion, it has said.
For instance, officials said that new construction methods were being used on the Kennedy and that billions of dollars in non-recurring engineering costs from the USS Ford effort would be avoided because the designs were completed before construction began.
Built with a host of new technologies designed to improve operational performance and efficiency over the existing Nimitz-class carriers, the Ford-class ships are engineered with slightly larger deck space to allow for a greater sortie rate, more computer automation to reduce the need for manpower and an electromagnetic catapult to propel jets off the deck an into the sky over the ocean.
Integrating all of these new technologies into a single new, high-tech platform is a factor which contributed to the cost-growth of the USS Ford, service officials have acknowledged.
The new electromagnetic catapult system and new advanced arresting gear are designed for smoother, safer and more efficient take-offs and landings compared to the steam catapults now used on today’s carriers.
The ship's larger deck space is intended to accommodate a potential increase in use of carrier-launched unmanned aircraft systems in the future, such as the Navy's now developing Unmanned Carrier Launched Aircraft Surveillance and Strike system, or UCLASS.
Also, the Ford-class carriers are being built with three times the electrical power generating capacity compared to Nimitz-class carriers, Navy officials said. The Ford and Kennedy will have four 26-megawatt generators bringing a total of 104 megawatts to the ship.