By Rear Adm. Michael Manazir
Director Air Warfare (OPNAV N98)
The nuclear powered aircraft carrier (CVN), with its embarked carrier air wing (CVW), is the only maritime force capable of executing the full range of military operations necessary to protect our national interests. From deterrence, to
humanitarian assistance, to large-scale combat operations, Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) stand ready to answer the call in all phases of conflict. Navies across the globe aspire to extend their influence by building aircraft carriers and developing deployment models that mirror what the United States has been doing for more than eighty years. Our innovative leadership in this arena must continue to grow as the need for a modern aircraft carrier remains critically important to the continued freedom of navigation on the high seas.
Geopolitics and global threats require that we maintain a maneuverable and visibly persuasive force across the globe that can accomplish a number of missions, over sea and land. The carrier is the only answer to this requirement and the future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) will soon be underway fulfilling this critical need.
The Ford is not a notional, larger than life project that may never see the light of day. Ford is alive and pier-side in Newport News. Ninety percent of the actual ship is structurally complete, and multiple cutting edge systems are coming online each month. She is nearly ready to go to sea and a community of sailors, shipbuilders, engineers, and citizens cannot wait to take her to the front lines.
Return on Investment
Despite the significant costs of developing the world’s newest aircraft carrier, the investment is absolutely critical to our national security over much of the next century. Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and their embarked air wings enable the U.S. to operate without a “permission slip” for host nation basing. Ships like Ford will generate the full range of effects necessary to deter potential adversaries with minimal notice or diplomatic coordination. It is understandable that the cost of operating 100,000 tons of fast, highly-lethal combat power should come with a high price tag, but we’ve been committed to rigorous oversight and management of cost and delivery deadlines. Looking at cost in a vacuum without considering how unmatched warfighting power is extracted from each of those dollars would be shortsighted. Overall, the Ford class brings improved warfighting capability, quality-of-life improvements, and reduced total ownership costs. Together, these efforts will reduce manning by approximately 700 billets, reduce periodic maintenance, improve operational availability and capability, and reduce total ownership costs through its 50-year life by $4 billion for each ship over its Nimitz class counterpart. With the exception of the hull, virtually everything has been redesigned; it is the first new aircraft carrier design in more than 40 years. The ship’s design includes sophisticated new technologies that deliver capability now and will continue to grow with the incorporation of future weapons systems. A new nuclear propulsion and electric plant on the Ford class will generate almost three times the electrical power over the Nimitz class, leading to higher aircraft sortie rates and excess power to incorporate future technologies, such as the employment of directed energy weapons. From the Advanced Arresting Gear to engineering efficiencies, the Ford class is cutting-edge.
Ford Class delivers enduring, unmatched air power
The Ford and Nimitz class will remain relevant despite technological advances among our adversaries that make access to the battlespace more challenging. While Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) threats are increasing in complexity, our Navy is evolving to address these challenges and outpace the threats. It is important to look more broadly at how the CSG as a whole is equipped to deal with these complex threat environments. With an integrated network of aircraft, sensors, and weapons, the CSG remains a viable and credible threat to any adversary, where it matters, when it matters.
Additionally, the air wing itself will grow and adapt around the carrier to keep pace with technological advances and future capabilities. We’ve seen this before with the former USS Enterprise. The air wing aboard the Enterprise in 1962 was nearly unrecognizable from the modern composition of aircraft when she decommissioned in 2012. Nevertheless, that mighty ship was still able to execute missions and outmatch threats over a 51- year period. When you leverage the capabilities of the F-35C, our fifth generation fighter, with the capabilities of our F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E-2D Hawkeyes, and MH-60R/S Seahawks, you have what you need to fight and win against adversary threats in the near and long term. Future systems like the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program will only add to CSG lethality while diminishing vulnerabilities. Unlike other classes of ships, the aircraft carrier does not need to be retired when its primary weapons system becomes obsolete – the ship will continue to operate and dominate in any environment as its air wing and company surface combatants evolve.
History has proven time and time again that when the United States’ national security or national interest is at risk, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will steam ahead and be the first to answer the call. There is no greater proof of the tangible effects of the modern carrier on global events than events that have occurred this past year. After the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) expanded through the Middle East, our deployed CSG surged forward to protect citizens and interests throughout the region. Carrier Strike Group Two and the USS George H.W. Bush deployed into the Arabian Gulf to blunt ISIL’s advance with air strikes and numerous related maritime-based effects. CSG 2 formed the only armed response option for the nation for 54 days. The USS Carl Vinson Strike Group and Carrier Strike Group One followed, flying 12,300 sorties, including 2,383 combat missions. Now, the USS Theodore Roosevelt stands watch with Carrier Strike Group Twelve, an indispensable tool at the Combatant Commander’s disposal to fight a brutal enemy.
Beyond air power alone, the integrated nature of the sensors and weapon systems within the entire CSG is invaluable to Combatant Commanders and decision makers in Washington, D.C. Cruisers, destroyers, maritime patrol and reconnaissance force aircraft, and national sensors integrate with the CVN and CVW to broaden the reach of our most capable assets. Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) is a game-changing concept that will greatly enhance Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) missions. NIFC-CA relies on a family of sensors rather than a single system. Inputs from air and surface assets create a common operational picture among platforms and incorporate integrated fires (from air and surface platforms) to counter and neutralize missile threats. This revolutionary capability is already integrated into the USS Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group.
There is no doubt that our aircraft carriers remain relevant in this time of geopolitical tension due to their flexibility, adaptability and lethality. While conflicts no longer span entire oceans, there are real and dangerous adversaries that seek to derail peace and inflict harm. The investments we make now in the Ford class carrier will ensure we continue to confront these threats. Whether it is combatting terrorists, assisting humanitarian assistance efforts after a natural disaster, or deterring future conflict, the nuclear powered carrier will continue to be the centerpiece of our Nation’s initial and lasting response across the globe.