The humble beginnings of the aircraft carrier dates to the start of the 20th century, with the first fixed-wing aircraft to ascend from a ship being in 1910 when a U.S. pilot took off from the USS Birmingham. It wasn’t until the 1940s, when what were then known as fleet carriers, began to play a very significant role in warfare, with the U.S., United Kingdom and Japan leading the way in developments. Today aircraft carriers are considered ‘capital ships,’ meaning one of the primary ships in a naval fleet, along with battleships, battlecruisers, and nuclear submarines. Despite this, few countries currently have aircraft carriers and those that do have many less than the U.S.’s 19-strong fleet. The U.S. is also the only country to own supercarriers, the largest known military behemoths to sail the seas, although China and the U.K. are developing their own. Today we’ll look at two of America’s supercarriers, in this episode of The Infographics Show, the Nimitz Class vs the Gerald R Ford Class.
First of all, we should point out that Nimitz Class has been a lodestone in the navy’s arsenal for some time. The USS Nimitz (CVN 68) was commissioned in 1975. The USS Gerald R. Ford is said to be 98 percent complete, and after more trials, its expected deployment is 2019. The ship has experienced some skips and bumps during development, although some pundits believe it will be in a class of its own.
In terms of costs, the Nimitz Class’ tenth and final iteration, the USS George H.W. Bush CVN-77, commissioned in 2009, was said to have been made for around 6.2 billion dollars. By comparison, the Gerald R. Ford Class is estimated to have costed around 12.8 billion dollars and a further $4.7 billion in research and development. This makes it the most expensive warship ever built.
The Nimitz Class weighs approximately 97,000 tons, has a length of about 1,092 feet (333 meters), and a beam of 252 feet (77 meters). Its top speed is around 30 knots, or 35 miles per hour. The Gerald R. Ford will also weigh almost 100,000 tons, have a length of 1,106 feet (337 meters), and a beam of 256 feet (78 meters). Its top speed will also be 30 knots.
The Nimitz Class gets it power from two A4W nuclear reactors, which power four propeller shafts. The Ford Class shows some superiority here, fitted with two new-design AB1 nuclear reactors, which are said to create six hundred megawatts of electricity, three times more powerful than that of the Nimitz Class.
Supercarriers are often referred to as being a navy unto themselves, due to the large number of personnel and equipment they carry. The Nimitz Class carries around 5,000 crew. The Ford Class is said to be able to perfectly function with around 700 fewer crew members.
The Nimitz Class is armed with 16–24 RIM-7 Sea Sparrows or NATO Sea Sparrow missiles, three to four Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems or RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles. The Ford Class will carry two Mk. 29 missile launchers, two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers, and four Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems. It’s also said that due to the Ford Class’s ability to create so much power, it will mount laser self-defense weapons. As for armor, the Nimitz Class has Kevlar over its vital spaces, as does the Ford Class.
Both carriers can hold around 75-85 aircraft and also helicopters, but the number of aircraft, as well as the type of aircraft, can change. The Nimitz has typically carried F/A-18E or F Super Hornets, F/A-18C Hornets, F-4 Phantoms, F-14 Tomcats and more. The Ford Class will also carry F/A-18E or F Super Hornets, as well as EA-18G Growlers, F-35C Lightning IIs, MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, and unmanned helicopters.
One of the reasons for the excitement around the Ford Class, however, is the fact the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System will be able to generate magnetic fields that can greatly improve the take-off speeds of aircraft and cause much less damage than the formerly-used steam activated catapult systems did to aircraft over time. The method of using catapults that needed steam power is said by some pundits to be outdated; a laborious process that required lots of maintenance and was time-consuming due to waiting for steam pressure to build. The Ford Class also has a superior landing system in its Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), which will reportedly be more effective than the MK 7 hydraulic arresting system used on the Nimitz. However, in 2016, a report by the Department of Defense Inspector General said the AAG had yet to be proven in its superiority.
The Ford Class will also receive an upgrade in its electronic warfare systems. Up until now, the U.S. Navy relied on the AN/SLQ-32 Electronic Warfare Suite, with the Ford Class using more advanced AN/SPY-3 and AN/SPY-4 multifunction radars. This is known as Dual Band Radar, and essentially performs as many tasks as the many radars used on the Nimitz.
Other positive attributes given to the Ford Class over the Nimitz Class might not sound quite as exciting, such as its superior sewage system, various improvements regarding how space is optimized, new electric weapons elevators, a larger flight deck area, and a redesigned island. The Ford Class’s dedicated website states, “During the design process, the shipbuilders found hidden value in every square inch of the ship.” This, states the site, will save Americans billions over the years.
Another aspect that is important, and one in which America arguably leads the way, is technological automation. The Ford Class requires fewer crew, partly because of automation. It makes sense to have fewer crew in many ways if the ship runs just as well. As Newport News Shipbuilding’s President Matt Mulherin said in an interview with Gizmodo, not only will operating costs be down, but the life of the sailor should be much easier. “We’ve taken off a lot of bunks, and taken off workload for a lot of sailors, but it retains all of the functionality of the Nimitz-class ships,” said Mulherin. The Ford Class in some ways is a mega-computer, consisting of fiber optic cable that stretches for millions of feet, vastly improving data speeds and the reliability of data.
As we heard in the beginning, the U.S. is not alone in building highly advanced supercarriers. Not much is known about China’s CV-17, although analysts have stated that it will be endowed with an advanced electronic suite and updated Type 346 radar. Much speculation has surrounded its carrier’s catapult system, although the People’s Liberation Army Navy have stated that the next Chinese aircraft carrier will have an electromagnetic aircraft launch system.
The UK is designing two supercarriers, one of which is the HMS Queen Elizabeth. This will not require catapults due to it carrying only vertical or short take-off and landing aircraft. The same goes for its other supercarrier-work-in-progress, the HMS Prince of Wales, whose aircraft fleet will largely consist of American-made F-35B Lightning II stealth multirole fighters, the variant of the F-35 for short take-off and vertical-landing. As Britain and China have yet to finish these rather expensive ships, not only is the U.S. the only country to have an electromagnetic aircraft launch system on a carrier, but it is only joined by France in having steam catapults. The two French ships, however, are not considered supercarriers due to their smaller size. Russia and India are also said to have aspirations in building a supercarrier, but right now that’s a long way off.
So, how do you think the old pro ranks against the arguably more advanced Ford Class? Just as the development of the F-35 has been criticized for devouring dollars, the new supercarrier has been met with similar concerns. Only recently, President Donald Trump said he was no fan of spending money on what he referred to as digital catapults. We’ll leave you with that, and hope to hear your opinions in the comments. If you liked this video, be sure to check out Nimitz Class vs Admiral Kuznetsov! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!