America’s New Carrier Class Has Less Striking Power but Costs 6x as Much as an Old Forrestal

Just to give you an idea how much more corrupt and inefficient the MIC has grown since the 1950s

The Ford class aircraft carrier represents the pinnacle of carrier development.  Its features represent the best aircraft carrier characteristics ever conceived and have never before been matched.  The Ford instantly obsoletes every other carrier that has come before.  Or so the Navy would have us believe.  In true ComNavOps fashion, let’s take a level-headed, objective look at a comparison between a supposedly hopelessly obsolete carrier design, the Forrestal, and the revolutionary Ford.

Here’s a quick comparison:


Cost, FY19 dollars
Length Overall, ft
Displacement Full Load, tons
Speed, kts
Range, miles
Propulsion, Shaft Hp
Air Wing, number of aircraft
Combat Aircraft, number of aircraft
Crew without Air Wing
a Reportedly around 700 less than a Nimitz class

b Estimated – USS Enterprise, CV-6, had a range of 12,500 nm at 15 kts (Wikipedia);  I’ve been unable to find an actual range for Forrestal

USS Forrestal


USS Ford

So, how do the two carriers compare? Well, two factors just leap off the page.

Cost. The Ford just explodes any previous carrier cost by a staggering amount. Ford costs over 6x a Forrestal !!!!!! We could build 6 Forrestals for one Ford. Even compared to the Nimitz class, the Ford is about 60% more expensive (see, “Carrier Costs”).

The Ford cost is simply not sustainable. A single Ford represents nearly a full year’s shipbuilding budget all by itself. There’s no mystery about why our carrier fleet is steadily declining and why our air wings are steadily shrinking – it’s all about the cost.

Air Wing. The other number that leaps off the page is the size of the air wings and the number of combat aircraft (fighters and strike). Despite a whopping 23% increase in displacement, the Ford carries far fewer aircraft: only ¾ of the Forrestal air wing and 70% of the combat aircraft (less when F-18 tanker aircraft are excluded from the count).

Note that F-35C squadrons will be only 10 aircraft, further reducing the air wing and combat aircraft numbers. (2)

Combat. The reason a carrier exists is, of course, combat. Does the Ford offer any combat enhancements over a Forrestal? None. The only combat related claim ever made for the Ford was the now-debunked (by GAO and others) sortie rate claim. In fact, the Ford has a few features that actually decrease its combat capability such as the EMALS catapults that can’t be individually or easily repaired without taking all the catapults off line in a massively time consuming electrical flywheel spin down and spin up procedure.

All other combat characteristics are identical between the two carriers: same number of catapults, same launch capacity, same flight cycle operations, same aircraft recovery capacity, same number of elevators, etc.

Conclusion. So, what do we gain from our staggeringly expensive $13B+ state of the art Ford class carrier? Absolutely nothing! In fact, the Forrestal cost a fraction of the Ford and carried a larger air wing. Some of you may be saying that the Ford could carry a larger air wing and you’d be right, in theory. The reality, however, is that the carrier costs so much that we can’t afford the air wing. What’s a carrier without an air wing? A floating paperweight! What’s a carrier with a reduced air wing? A marginally useful combat carrier.

Note: You know that we only have 9 air wings for our 11 carriers, right? That means we only have a maximum of 9 operational carriers.

Consider, however, if we were to build modern versions of the Forrestal for $2.1B. Compared to the Ford, that would leave us with $11.4B to buy more carriers and more more/larger air wings.

A modern Forrestal sized air wing (say, 85 aircraft), at an average of $100M per aircraft, just to use a round number, costs around $8.5B – well within our $11.4B savings and still leaving us with $2.9B we could use for another carrier or escorts.

So, why are we building 100,000 ton, $13B+ Fords when we’ve just demonstrated that a modern Forrestal could provide the same combat capability and larger air wings for a tiny fraction of the cost?


Reference – Air Wing Composition

Typical air wing composition in mid-1980’s with number of squadrons, type of aircraft, and number of aircraft per squadron. (1)

2x F-14 Tomcat, 12 ea = 24
2x A-7 Corsair, 12 ea = 24
1x A-6 Intruder, 10-12 plus 4 KA-6D
1x E-2 Hawkeye, 4-6
1x EA-6B Prowler, 4
1x SH-3 Sea King, 6
1x S-3 Viking, 10

Total = 82-86
Combat = 58-60

Typical current air wing composition with number of squadrons, type of aircraft, and number of aircraft per squadron. (1)

4x F-18 Hornet, 10-12 ea = 40-44
1x E-2 Hawkeye, 4-5
1x EA-18G Growler, 5
1x MH-60S Seahawk, 8
1x MH-60R Seahawk, 6-8

Total = 63-70
Combat = 40-44

Source: Navy Matters

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