Need aircraft carrier modifications

The world's largest and most expensive aircraft carrier on a test drive

The world's largest and most expensive aircraft carrier left for its first test drive. As things stand, the USS Gerald R. Ford will cost $ 13 billion and carry 75 aircraft. But of all things the new launch system is struggling with teething troubles.

Departure of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford: With a construction cost of 13 billion dollars, the ship is the most expensive aircraft carrier in the world.

Photo: Ridge Leoni / US Navy

The starting system has been completely redeveloped: A rapidly moving electromagnetic traveling field accelerates the sled on which the aircraft is hanging. After 100 m the starting speed of 360 km / h should be reached.

Photo by Joshua J. Wahl / US Navy

In November 2013, the USS Gerald R. Ford was christened.

Photo: Peter D. Lawlor / US Navy

The keel of the aircraft carrier, which is below the waterline, is also very impressive, here in 2012. Construction of the USS Gerald R. Ford began in 2009.

Photo by Ricky Thompson / US Navy

Photo: Ridge Leoni / US Navy

Photo: Ridge Leoni / US Navy

Photo: Ridge Leoni / US Navy

Photo by Joshua J. Wahl / US Navy

More than a year late, the US Navy is now putting the USS Gerald R. Ford into operation, albeit on an experimental basis. At around $ 13 billion, the gigantic aircraft carrier is the most expensive warship of all time. The energy for all systems on board and the propulsion are provided by two type A1B nuclear reactors, which the Bechtel Corporation developed and built.

The reactors need highly enriched uranium (93 percent uranium 235), which would also be useful for building atomic bombs. In nuclear power plants, an enrichment of around four percent is sufficient. The advantage of the highly enriched uranium: The fuel elements only need to be replaced after 25 years. In conventional reactors it is about three years.

Magnetic levitation train as a model

The aircraft carrier has many technical refinements. One is the new type of catapult system for aircraft that uses magnet technology. It should significantly increase the starting frequency to 45 seconds.

It works in a similar way to a maglev train, such as the one that connects Shanghai with its airport. Instead of steam, which escapes explosively and accelerates a sled to which the aircraft taking off is attached, the new system consists of a linear motor. A fast moving electromagnetic traveling field accelerates the sled. After 100 m the starting speed of 360 km / h should be reached. The system is celebrating its premiere on the new aircraft carrier, but has to contend with teething problems.

Landing technology is traditional. A hook catches landing planes. The speed is reduced to zero within three seconds.

Through the sea at 56 km / h

The dimensions of the aircraft carrier are gigantic. The ship is 337.1 m long. The 78 m wide flight deck measures 332.8 m and can accommodate 75 aircraft. The number of crew members is a good 4,500. The two reactors deliver so much electricity that the huge ship can reach a speed of 56 km / h. It is driven by four screws.

How to defend the ship

The new aircraft carrier is equipped with various defensive weapons. First there is the Phalanx Mk-15 from the manufacturer Raytheon, a missile system that destroys enemy missiles on approach. There are also RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, a medium-range system from the same manufacturer, and cruise missiles of the type RIM-116 RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile). They are based on heat sources such as motors and control them independently. The German companies MBDA from Schrobenhausen in Bavaria and Diehl Defense from Nuremberg are involved in the production.

The USS Gerald R. Ford is the first of three largely identical new aircraft carriers. The USS John F. Kennedy should be ready in 2020, the USS Enterprise in 2025. The US Navy expects the USS Gerald R. Ford to be ready for military service in 2021 after extensive testing.

But not only the Americans are currently investing heavily in their aircraft carriers. China is also heavily upgrading its fleet of ships and building aircraft carriers of the same class.

A contribution by:

  • Wolfgang Kempkens

    Wolfgang Kempkens studied electrical engineering at RWTH Aachen University and graduated with a diploma. He worked for a daily newspaper and magazine before establishing himself as a freelance journalist. He mainly deals with environmental, energy and technology issues.