The christening of the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) was more than just a celebration of the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier. It also marked another step toward a new class of aircraft carrier. The Ford is the lead ship of the Gerald R. Ford class, the Navy’s first new aircraft carrier design in 40 years. The celebrants at the christening ceremony at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. on Nov. 9 were fully aware of this fact. The pageantry of the christening of the Ford stood in contrast to the launching of the Zumwalt, another advanced lead ship.
The Ford is the lead ship of the Gerald R. Ford class, the Navy’s first new aircraft carrier design in 40 years.
The Ford brings innovations to the fleet. Quality-of-life improvements and reduced maintenance have been baked in to the design. The Navy expects these innovations to reduce costs by $4 billion over the Ford’s envisioned 50-year service life, compared with Nimitz-class carriers.
Designers also have anticipated advances in technology and designed the Ford to evolve with those advances. “The carrier is our Navy’s most adaptable platform,” said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations. “This ship will not only launch the aircraft we currently have in inventory, it will launch aircraft we haven’t even begun to design,” he added. Some have suggested that the aircraft carrier is obsolete, an idea that Greenert rejects. “USS Enterprise (CVN 65), a ship we inactivated after more than 50 years of service, was relevant from her first day in service through her last.”
“She is truly a technological marvel. We should embrace technology, but it is our people who underpin our success.”
The route to the christening ceremony was long. More than 12 years of planning and construction have gone into the Ford. The keel was laid in 2009 and delivery is scheduled in 2016. While construction and systems installations proceed, the Navy is already building, training, and developing the crew of the Ford. “In partnership with Newport News Shipbuilding, we will match the most technologically advanced and adaptable platform in our Navy’s history with the most adaptable and technically proficient crew,” said Capt. John Meier, commanding officer of Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford. Although the technological innovations, such as electromagnetic catapults (EMALS), get the press, Greenert feels it is the crew that will ensure success. “She is truly a technological marvel. We should embrace technology, but it is our people who underpin our success,” said Greenert.
The carrier is named for President Gerald R. Ford, who was not only the 38th President of the United States, but was also a Navy lieutenant commander during World War II. He even served on an aircraft carrier, the light carrier USS Monterey (CVL 26). Ford’s daughter and the ship’s sponsor Susan Ford Bales christened the Gerald R. Ford. “I christen thee United States Ship Gerald R. Ford,” said Bales, breaking the bottle across the bow. “May God bless all those who sail in her.”
“It is a great source of pride and humility to know an aircraft carrier bearing my name will be forever connected with the valor and patriotic service of men and women of the United States Navy.”
One doesn’t have to speculate if Ford, who died in 2006, would have been proud to have an aircraft carrier bear his name. Bales shared a letter that was written by her father to then-Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter. Ford wrote, “thus, it is a great source of pride and humility to know an aircraft carrier bearing my name will be forever connected with the valor and patriotic service of men and women of the United States Navy.” It was the last letter he wrote before his death.