Navy's New Ford-Class Carrier - USS Kennedy - Now 50% Built

Video -The Navy is using new methods to build its second Ford-Class Carrier - How will it change combat?

Warrior Video Above -The Navy is putting new weapons on its Ford-Class Carriers - and using new methods to build its second Ford-Class Carrier - How will it change combat?

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

The US Navy and Huntington Ingalls Industries have begun integrating new radar, weapons and steel structures into its now 50% percent complete second new Ford-Class carrier, the USS Kennedy.

Builders report the massive progress is due, in large measure, to the integration of one of the largest planned steel structures, the "superlifts," HII reports.

"Weighing approximately 905 metric tons, the unit is one of the heaviest of the planned steel structures, known as superlifts, that will be joined together to make up the second ship in the Gerald R. Ford class. The superlift of the aft section of the ship between the hangar bay and flight deck is 80 feet long, about 110 feet wide and four decks in height," a statement from Huntington Ingalls said.

Combining 19 smaller units into one superlift allowed Newport News to install a majority of the outfitting equipment—grating, pumps, valves, pipe, electrical panels, mounting studs, lighting, ventilation and other components, developers added.

Earlier this year, the Navy completed the addition of the lower stern, Huntington Ingalls Industries announced.

HII ship developers have been employing a newer construction strategy for the Kennedy, involving a handful of techniques intended to lower costs and call upon lessons learned from the building of the first Ford-class carrier in recent years, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).

With so much of the ship built, hundreds of structural units have been completed on items such as pipe assemblies, cabling, shafts, rudders and struts for the ship, HII reported in an Aug. 31 statement.

Ford Class Serves into the Next Century

The USS Kennedy will replace the USS Nimitz which is due to retire by 2027; the Ford-class carriers are slated to replace the existing Nimitz-class carriers on a one-to-one basis in an incremental fashion over the next fifty years or so.

One of the construction techniques for Kennedy construction has included efforts to assemble compartments and parts of the ship together before moving them to the dock – this expedites construction by allowing builders to integrate larger parts of the ship more quickly.

This technique, referred to by Huntington Ingalls developers as “modular construction,” was also used when building the Ford; the process welds smaller sections of the ship together into larger structural “superlift” units before being lifted into the dry dock, HII statements explained.

Construction begins with the bottom of the ship and works up with inner-bottoms and side shells before moving to box units, HII developers explained. The bottom third of the ship gets built first. Also, some of the design methods now used for the Kennedy include efforts to fabricate or forge some parts of the ship - instead of casting them because it makes the process less expensive, builders explained.

HII ship developers have been making an aggressive effort to lower costs of the USS Kennedy. Officials have said that the cost of the USS Kennedy will be well over $1.5 billion less than the costs to build the first Ford-Class ship.

The Navy received substantial criticism in recent years from lawmakers and government watchdog groups during the construction of the USS Ford for rising costs. Construction costs for the USS Ford wound up being several billion above early cost estimates. Cost overruns with the construction wound up leading Congress to impose a $12.9 billion cost-cap on the ship.

At the time, Navy officials pointed out that integrating new technologies brings challenges and that at least $3 billion of the Ford’s costs were due to what’s described as non-recurring engineering costs for a first-in-class ship such as this. Nonetheless, service leaders have consistently said that the Navy is making substantial progress with efforts to lower costs for the Kennedy.

Huntington Ingalls Industries Video of USS Kennedy construction

Also, Newport News Shipbuilding – a division of HII - was able to buy larger quantities of parts earlier in the construction process with the Kennedy because, unlike the circumstance during the building of the USS Ford, the Kennedy’s ship design was complete before construction begins.

As for the design, the Kennedy will be largely similar to the design of the USS Ford, with a few minor alterations. The Kennedy will receive a new radar and its aircraft elevators will use electric motors instead of a hydraulic system to lower costs.

New Radar for USS Kennedy

The Navy plans to test and operate a new, highly-sensitive ship-defense radar technology for its 2nd Ford-Class aircraft carrier -- to detect incoming enemy fire, anti-ship cruise missiles and airborne threats such as attacking drones, fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters.

The new radar, called the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar, or EASR, is slated to go on the now-under-construction USS Kennedy (CVN 79), as well as several of the service's amphibs such as the LX(R) and its third big-deck America-class amphib, LHA 8.

Testing is slated for next year and technical development of EASR is now underway, Navy officials said.

EASR uses gallium nitride (GaN) semi-conductor technology and builds upon common hardware, software and processing elements of the Navy’s next-generation AN/SPY-6(V) Air and Missile Defense Radar slated for the service’s Flight III DDG 51 destroyers.

“EASR is a SPY-6 variant, using identical hardware, signal processing and data processing. EASR will have the additional capability of air-traffic control radar, which ADMR does not have,” a senior Navy official told reporters last year.

Much like SPY-6, EASR is engineered to be cyber-hardened and reliable, according to Raytheon statements.

“EASR has cost and reliability benefits of gallium nitride. It uses digital beam forming and advanced algorithms for operations in high-clutter, near-land electromagnetic interference environments,” a Raytheon statement said.

The AN/SPY-6 is described by radar engineers as being 35-times more powerful than most-current ship-based radar systems; developers say it enables detection of objects twice as far away and half the size compared with existing radars.

In radar terminology, a 15-decibel increase with AMDR translates into roughly 35 times more power and sensitivity compared to the existing AN/SPY-1D radar.

AMDR (AN/SPY-6) consists of S-band and X-band radars and a radar suite controller. Together, the technologies are able to scan, track and search the horizon and surrounding area for threats by sending an electromagnetic signal into the atmosphere, then analyzing the return signal of what it hits. The information can provide dimensions of a missile or other incoming threat by identifying its size, shape, location and trajectory.

Similar to its predecessor, the Aegis AN/SPY-1D radar, the AMDR includes a phased-array radar, Navy officials said. The S-band radar is engineered for long-range detection, whereas the X-band radar performs the over-the-horizon search capability, according to the service.

AMDR is optimized for anti-air and ballistic missile defense missions but is also capable in the anti-surface and counter-battery arenas.

Much like today’s AN/SPY-1D radar, the AMDR will be able to scan the surface as well, assisting with the fire-control technology needed to identify where an incoming threat can be intercepted.

Ship Defenses

There is much discussion about how the USS Ford and USS Kennedy's massively-increased onboard power technology, driven by four 26-megawatt generators, will potentially enable emerging weapons, such as defensive lasers and railguns.

“Besides carrying over 75 warplanes, the USS Ford (and the USS Kennedy as well) have some serious destructive capability. Engineers and designers included ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile), RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile), and a Mk-15 Phalanx CIWS,” a report from Engineering.com writes.

Fast moving modern threats are inspiring a new generation of ship-defense technologies for Navy carriers, to include interceptor missiles, torpedo defenses, electronic warfare and even lasers. These systems are being stepped up on the USS Ford and USS Kennedy due to emerging weapons from potential adversaries such as hypersonic missiles, long-range anti-ship weapons and electronic warfare attacks.

This is particularly true in light of the often discussed threats of Chinese DF-21D “carrier killer,” a long range anti-ship guided missile reported to reach ranges greater than 900 miles. The Chinese DF-26 is also cited in a Pentagon report on China's military as being a source of considerable concern.

There is much discussion about how the USS Ford and USS Kennedy's massively-increased onboard power technology, driven by four 26-megawatt generators, will potentially enable emerging weapons, such as defensive lasers and railguns.

Upgraded Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile

The USS Ford is expected to deploy with the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block 2, or ESSM, a weapon designed to track and destroy incoming enemy supersonic missiles and anti-ship missiles, among other threats.

The ESSM Block 2 is engineered with what’s called an active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can achieve improved flight or guidance to its target by both receiving and actively sending electromagnetic signals, Navy and industry ESSM developers told Warrior Maven in previous interviews.

The current ESSM missiles use what’s called a semi-active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can receive electromagnetic signals bounced off the target by an illuminator; the ESSM Block 2’s “active” guidance includes illuminator technology built onto the missile itself such that it can both receive and send important electromagnetic signals, Navy and Raytheon officials explained.

A shipboard illuminator is an RF signal that bounces off a target. The antenna in the nose in the guidance section [of the missile] sees the reflected energy and then corrects to intercept that reflective energy, Raytheon officials told Warrior.

The emerging missile has an “active” front end, meaning it can send an electromagnetic signal forward to track a maneuvering target, at times without needing a ship-based illuminator for guidance.

Also, the missile is able to intercept threats that are close to the surface by sea-skimming or diving in onto a target from a higher altitude, Navy officials explained.

Phalanx Close in Weapons System

The Phalanx Close in Weapons System, or CIWS, is an area weapon engineered to use a high rate of fire and ammunition to blanket a given area, destroying or knocking enemy fire out of the sky before it can reach a ship. The Phalanx CIWS, which can fire up to 4,500 rounds per minute, has been protecting ship platforms for decades.

CWIS firs a 20 mm Vulcan cannon mounted on a swiveling base. An essay in Naval Forces magazine called "CIWS - the Last Ditch Defense," further specifics that the weapon fires "armor piercing tungsten penetrater rounds with discarding sabots." CIWS fires a M61A1 Gatling gun out to ranges of 3 km.

In previous interviews, Navy officials have told Warrior Maven that the latest CIWS Block IB provides ships the additional capability for defense against asymmetric threats such as small, high speed, maneuvering surface craft, slow-flying fixed and rotary-winged aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

A CIWS overhaul in recent years has consisted of numerous upgrades to the weapon itself, converting the existing systems into what's called the Phalanx 1B configuration. At the same time, the CIWS overhaul also includes the development and ongoing integration of a new, next-generation radar for the system called the CIWS Phalanx Block IB Baseline 2, Navy officials explained.

The Phalanx Block IB configuration incorporates a stabilized Forward-Looking Infra-Red sensor, an automatic acquisition video tracker, optimized gun barrels (OBG) and the Enhanced Lethality Cartridges (ELC),

The FLIR also improves performance against anti-ship cruise missiles by providing more accurate angle tracking information to the fire control computer.

The OGB/ELC combine to provide tighter dispersion and increased first hit range, a Navy official added. The Phalanx 1B fires Mk 244 ammunition, using the Enhanced Lethality Cartridge specifically designed to penetrate anti-ship cruise missiles.

The Mk 244 ammunition is engineered with a 48 percent heavier tungsten penetrator and an aluminum nose piece, according to information from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems.

The Phalanx Block IB Baseline 2 radar upgrade is a new digital radar that provides improved detection performance, increased reliability and reduction in sailor man-hours for system maintenance, developers said.

The Baseline 2 upgrade mitigates obsolete components inherent in the existing analog radar by introducing COTS-based (commercial off-the-shelf) signal processing coupled with a new signal source and mixer.

CIWS uses "Ku-band radar featuring closed-loop spotting technology capable of autonomously performing its own search, detect, evaluation, track, engage and kill assessment functions," a Naval Forces essay writes.

The Baseline 2 radar also provides the Phalanx CIWS with "surface mode," meaning it adds the ability to track, detect and then destroy threats closer to the surface of the water compared with previous models of the weapon, developers explained.

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--- Kris Osborn, Managing Editor of WARRIOR MAVEN (CLICK HERE) can be reached at krisosborn.ko@gmail.com -

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