Hope aboard the Ford – The Virginian-Pilot


Our hopes and best wishes go with any ship departing a Hampton Roads port for deployment, but perhaps never more so than those accompanying the USS Gerald R. Ford as it debuts in service.

When she departed on October 4, the new class of carrier – unquestionably a triumph of modern engineering – was carrying not only the brave men and women assigned to her decks and who inhabit this region, but also, in a wide extent, the fortunes of the region itself.

This may sound like hyperbole, but it is not. When you consider the economic role that Newport News Shipbuilding plays here – both in terms of jobs and revenue generated – as well as the size of the Ford-class contract, it’s easy to see how many trips to this island of steel which moved gracefully out of port last week.

Perhaps because they’re part of the landscape – a familiar and heartwarming sight for residents of Hampton Roads – it can be easy to lose your sense of perspective on aircraft carriers. We rarely stop and marvel at the daring it takes to build a huge floating runway, power station and apartment complex all in one.

They are among the most advanced machines humans have ever built, requiring tens of thousands of people and costing billions of dollars. That they are built here should be a source of immense pride, for the men and women who do the hard and arduous work and for the region they call home.

Carriers also require a huge time investment. The US Navy awarded the Ford contract to Northrop Grumman, who then operated the shipyard, in 2008 and the Ford’s keel was laid in 2009, but construction actually began with a ceremonial steel cut in 2005, which means that 17 years passed between the first stage of construction. on the ship’s first deployment.

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But the time invested in construction is supposed to be repaid in the life of the ship. The Ford is expected to be in service for 90 years and the innovations featured in its design are intended to allow the transporter to operate more efficiently and efficiently than before.

The new class of transporters is also full of innovations and new technologies that should revolutionize their operation. The Ford uses electromagnetic launch systems rather than the steam-powered systems used by Nimitz-class carriers, which will allow it to launch more aircraft in a shorter time. Its nuclear reactor generates more energy than previous transporters; its weapons and radars are more advanced; it features a larger flight deck than its predecessors and requires a smaller crew to operate.

All told, the Ford class represents a bold leap forward in design and capability. And that means American interests, at home and abroad, will be better served by having this ship and future Ford aircraft carriers on the water.

Aircraft carriers remain central to the nation’s defense strategy, playing an invaluable role in helping to project American firepower virtually anywhere on earth. Even as the nation’s military turns to unmanned vehicles and other measures to reduce the threat to personnel, aircraft carriers will remain a critical piece of the Pentagon’s puzzle.

This is reflected in the contract Huntington Ingalls Industries won in 2019 from the Department of Defense to build the next two Ford-class carriers at a cost of $14.9 billion. This is a unique arrangement since ships are typically purchased one at a time, but HII and Navy officials agreed that securing plans to build two ships would reduce the overall cost to taxpayers.

For Hampton Roads, it also provides economic stability, both for the shipyard and its employees and for the subcontractors and other local businesses that depend on shipbuilding for their livelihood.

That’s why the whole region is relying heavily on the Ford as it rolled out of the port of Hampton Roads this month and why we hope for a successful deployment and safe return in a few months.

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