The world’s most powerful navies are constantly evolving and adapting to new technologies and advancements in warfare. In this race for dominance, the aircraft carrier stands as the ultimate symbol of military might. Today, we take a closer look at the latest and most advanced aircraft carriers being developed by the United States, France, China, and South Korea.
The American Powerhouse: USS Gerald Ford Super Carrier
The USS Gerald Ford is the lead ship of the Gerald Ford class, the latest and most advanced aircraft carriers of the US Navy. Ten carriers are planned for this class, with one completed and active and two more currently in development. The 100,000-ton displacement vessel boasts 23 new technologies, including three industry marvels:
Meet the USS Gerald R. Ford, the most technologically advanced aircraft carrier in the US Navy
Meet the USS Gerald R. Ford, the most advanced aircraft carrier in the US Navy. This marvel of engineering was officially commissioned on July 22, 2017, and is the first in the Navy’s next generation of warships known as the Ford class. Built at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, the USS Gerald R. Ford boasts groundbreaking technologies that make it the most advanced carrier ever built. With a price tag of $13 billion, this 100,000-ton message to the world is made of American hands and steel. At a length of 1,106 feet and a height of 250 feet, the USS Gerald R. Ford is massive, but it features many quality-of-life upgrades for sailors over the previous Nimitz design. Quieter sleeping quarters, numerous recreation areas, and better air conditioning are just some of the features that make life on board more comfortable. The USS Gerald R. Ford holds several impressive technological advancements that make it stand out. It is the first US carrier to be designed using full-scale 3D modeling techniques inside Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Rapid Operational Virtual Reality (ROVR) system. The ship also uses augmented-reality technology to give its crew a better understanding of its complex systems and improve efficiency. The carrier also boasts faster sorties generation rates than previous carriers. Despite being officially commissioned, the USS Gerald R. Ford will require another four years of trials before deployment, adding another $780 million to its already hefty price tag. The second carrier in the Ford class, the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), is currently under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, with an estimated cost of $11.4 billion. The USS Gerald R. Ford is a testament to American technological advancements and innovation. It will lend even greater capabilities to the US Navy in its mission to uphold freedom and provide security for its allies around the world.
1. Cutting-Edge Nuclear Power Propulsion
The USS Gerald Ford is powered by two Bechtel A1B nuclear reactors, which enable the carrier to run for 25 years without refueling. With a max speed of around 30 knots, the super carrier can access any country on the planet.
2. American Fighter Jets and UAVs
The USS Ford can accommodate up to 75 fighter jets and UAVs at any given time, including the Navy’s prized 5th generation F-35C Lightning II. This fighter jet, developed through the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program to date, is a versatile aircraft capable of close air support, vertical takeoff and landing, and more. Furthermore, the USS Ford is equipped to host, launch, and arrest the upcoming 6th generation FAX fighter.
3. Advanced Launch and Arrest Systems
Equipped with a first-of-its-kind electromagnetic launch system, the USS Ford can catapult various aircraft types into the sky with minimal distance. The carrier also features an arresting gear that can halt aircraft quickly and safely. These systems are designed for 4,100 takeoffs and 16,500 arrests before faults occur.
France’s Next-Generation Aircraft Carrier: PANG
France is accelerating its Porte-Avions Nouvelle Génération (PANG) aircraft carrier program, which aims to replace the 38,000-ton Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier currently in service with the French Navy. Construction is set to begin in just two years.
The PANG aircraft carrier will be powered by two K-22 nuclear reactors, offering 75% more tonnage than the Charles de Gaulle. With speeds of nearly 27 knots and virtually unlimited range, the 75,000-ton aircraft carrier is a formidable force. The nuclear propulsion system also provides optimal power for the carrier’s onboard systems, including new generation electromagnetic catapults and arrestors.
Initially, the Rafale M will be launched using these systems until the new sixth-generation fighter, developed by France, Germany, and Spain, enters service. This fighter, unveiled at the 2019 Paris Air Show, is a visually stunning and lethally effective aircraft. Unmanned drones will accompany this fighter into battle, utilizing a manned-unmanned teaming approach.
In addition to up to 32 fighters and a large number of helicopters, the PANG will be the first carrier aside from the US carriers to host drones. To operate all these systems and air-based assets, the PANG will have a complement of over 2,000 sailors. The total cost of this aircraft carrier is estimated at about $5 billion.
China’s Impressive Type-003 Fujian Aircraft Carrier
China has the second-largest fleet of aircraft carriers in the world, and their latest, the Type-003 Fujian, is an impressive addition. Launched on June 17, 2022, the Fujian’s design is reminiscent of the American supercarrier. It features electromagnetic launch systems but has only three compared to the US’s four.
The Fujian is powered by a conventional steam turbine-based propulsion system, which is inferior to a nuclear propulsion system in many ways. With a displacement of 80,000 tons, it is 20% lighter than the Ford. Its smaller size results in a smaller air wing, though the exact number of supported aircraft is uncertain.
However, the Fujian’s electromagnetic launch systems enable it to launch virtually all types of aircraft, providing the Chinese Navy with various options to execute missions. As the first indigenous Chinese aircraft carrier to contend for dominance, the Fujian marks a significant milestone in China’s shipbuilding capacity and the growing power of the Chinese military.
South Korea’s First Aircraft Carrier: CVX
South Korea is developing its first-ever aircraft carrier, the CVX, for the Republic of Korea Navy. This carrier is a result of a modernization program called “Blue Water Navy,” which began in 2001 and has produced some of South Korea’s most advanced sea-based assets.
The CVX will feature an axial flight deck similar to those used by the United States Navy. In August 2020, the South Korean Ministry of Defense confirmed the procurement of 20 F-35Bs for the CVX. The ship will also accommodate the future Marine Attack Helicopters of the Republic of Korea Marine Corps.
With a 45,000-ton displacement, the aircraft carrier will have a top speed of 27 knots and is estimated to cost $1.8 billion. The CVX is expected to be commissioned in 2030 and enter service in 2033, solidifying South Korea’s position as an aircraft carrier-operating nation in Asia, alongside China, Japan, India, and Thailand.
The Race for Aircraft Carrier Dominance
South Korea, China, France, and the US are among the most notable nations striving to enhance their military power projection across the seas through advanced aircraft carriers. As the 2030s approach, when most of these carriers will officially enter service, the landscape of naval warfare will undoubtedly evolve.
However, based on current information and projections, the most lethal aircraft carriers are the American Gerald Ford supercarriers, with the lead carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, already deployed. The USS Gerald Ford is an aircraft carrier of the future, unleashed today, and sets the benchmark for other nations as they continue to develop and upgrade their own naval capabilities.
Back in the early 1970s I was in the Navy during the Vietnam war. I was on a frigate. We mostly escorted carriers. In transit to Yokosuka Japan I had the opportunity to be sent by a chopper to the carrier, USS Midway (the smallest carrier in the fleet). All I can say is it was like a city. Something was going on every minute of the day. I was sent over to view their equipment in Combat Information Center because that’s what I did. I was just amazed. And when I was able to get some sleep I heard the jets above me being launched. One after another. Actually, I preferred to be on a small boy like my frigate but it was a learning experience. I can’t imagine how it is these days.
The Gerald Ford cost about $13B itself. Planes are extra but I would have to see details to believe anything close to a total of another $787B for 60 planes, armaments, etc.
The shame of building these ships and having so many sailors in one place is 1 missile can sink a ship.