The Navy is preparing the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier for major warfare on the open seas, by launching F/A-18 Super Hornets and helicopters equipped with ordnance for combat missions from its deck.
It is the largest air wing embark to date, and Ford’s first ordnance movement from a lower deck magazine using the weapons elevators, said Ford’s Commanding Officer Capt. J.J. Cummings and Carrier Air Wing Capt. Josh Sager in announcing the drill earlier this month.
The exercises used 40,000 pounds of inert, or non-explosive ordnance which was transferred through an upper stage elevator before being loaded onto an aircraft.
The USS Gerald R. Ford flight deck.
(Photo by Seaman Ryan Carter/U.S. Navy)
“We’re thrilled to be here dropping light and heavy inert ordnance; but the biggest thing as the air wing commander is to do our primary mission: war at sea, air defense, air superiority and power projection. We’re taking [Ford] from carrier qualification to a mission that focuses on combat operations,” Capt. Sager, Commander, CVW 8, said in a Navy report.
The first-in-class USS Ford has been specifically engineered for expanded air attack, being built with a larger deck space than the Nimitz-class to enable a greater sortie rate. Navy developers explain that the Ford configuration was developed to increase the air mission rate by as much as 33 percent, with a mind to creating a new dimension of air power projection. This strategy, initiated years ago, did seem to anticipate what could be described as a modern threat environment. More air power would be needed in any kind of major-power engagement, carriers need to have an ability to operate the first-of-its kind carrier-launched F-35C stealth fighter, and perhaps of equal or greater significance, modern carriers need to have longer attack reach.
Air attack assets such as the F-35C and upgraded F/A-18 fighters will have longer reach due to the upcoming arrival of the MQ-25 carrier-launched aerial refueler. This constitutes a substantial development, as it enables a carrier air wing to hold a country at risk for ranges out to 1,000 miles or more. Should an F-35C, for instance, have a 500-mile combat radius, it may need to turn around before reaching its destination. Should Chinese DF-21 or DF-26 carrier-killer missiles, which have a reported range of up to 900 nautical miles, force carriers to operate at greater standoff distances, an aerial refueler could ensure that the Navy sustains an air attack capability.
CVW-8 embarked seven squadrons and is operating nearly 30 fixed-wing aircraft and both of their Helicopter Sea Combat squadrons.