Sneak peek at US Navy’s new $13B aircraft carrier

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The $13 billion USS Gerald Ford is being commissioned after eight years of construction and testing

The next carrier in the Ford class, the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), is scheduled to launch in 2020

Norfolk, Virginia CNN  — 

Perched 50 feet above the USS Gerald Ford’s massive flight deck, Petty Officer 1st Class Jose Triana has a clear view of the horizon from his padded captain’s chair in the pilot house of the world’s most advanced aircraft carrier.

“This ship can basically drive itself,” Triana said, pointing to a touch-screen navigation display that has replaced the traditional throttle system used to power and steer the US Navy’s older carrier classes.

The one-of-a-kind control system is just one of many state-of-the-art upgrades aboard the $13 billion USS Gerald Ford that was commissioned into active duty on July 22 after eight years of construction, development and testing.

As the first new carrier design in 40 years, the 1,100-foot Ford incorporates advanced technology and operational systems that will allow aircraft take off and land more quickly, a smaller crew and improved survivability against projected threats, according to the Navy.

“One primary difference is the crew composition,” said the ship’s executive officer, Capt. Brent Gaut.

“We’ve worked a great deal to automize a lot of what we do,” he said, highlighting that the Ford maintains a crew of 2,600 sailors – 600 fewer than its predecessors in the Nimitz-class.

State-of-the-art electromagnetic catapults and advanced arresting gear have been coupled with new structural designs – including a larger flight deck to improve aircraft maneuverability and a repositioned “island” (the tower where the captain sits) for better visibility.

These systems are expected to streamline flight operations and allow the Ford to launch 33% more aircraft than older carriers in the fleet – meaning it will be able to pack a bigger punch.

“The more bombs I get over the target area the more lethal I am,” said Commanding Officer Capt. Rick McCormack.

“Certainly we’ve taken a hard look at the technology,” said Capt. Gaut, McCormack’s second-in-command. “We are always trying to stay a step ahead of the adversary and I think we’ve done that with this carrier.”