January 17, 2015: Strategy Page
An Egyptian engineer (Mostafa Ahmed Awwad) was arrested in November 2014 and charged with espionage. The engineer, who received a security clearance in August so he could work on the new Ford class aircraft carriers, promptly began stealing technical data on the Fords and passing it to Egyptian intelligence for cash. Awwad had married an American in 2007 and had applied to become a citizen. Apparently Awwad wanted to help his home country by providing data on the Fords that would make it easier for an enemy to sink one (by knowing the best place to aim the missiles). Egypt could then sell that information to a nation that could use it (like China, Russia or Iran) and afford to pay well. This would also improve the reputation of the Egyptian intelligence agency. Awwad seemed quite disheartened when he discovered that the “Egyptian agents” he was dealing with, in Arabic, were actually from the FBI, which suspected Awwad’s loyalty and were testing him. Awwad failed the test, not the least because of his enthusiasm for spying on the United States. Awwad now faces 20 years in prison.
The Ford class carriers are built to better survive the large missiles Russia and China build to destroy or disable large warships. The U.S. Navy's first Ford class aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78), is nearly complete and will be delivered in 2016. The Ford is a unique new carrier design in many ways, not just in its new protective aspects. For example, the Ford will be the first modern American warship built without urinals. There are several reasons for this. The Ford will have a smaller crew (by at least 20 percent) and more of them will be women. Currently about ten percent of American warship crews are women, but the Ford crew will be at least 15 percent female. Since women sleep in all-female dormitories ("berthing areas"), a toilet ("head") will now be attached to each berthing area (instead of being down the hall for all in the area). Moreover, berthing areas will be more spacious (because of the smaller crew) and hold a third to half as many bunks as previous carriers. Finally, drain pipes for urinals more frequently get clogged than those coming from toilets. So eliminating the urinals means less work for the plumbers. Many of the junior sailors, who have to clean the heads, won't miss the urinals, which are more of a chore to keep clean than the toilets.
The Fords will be about the same length (333 meters/1,092 feet) and displacement (100,000 tons) of the previous generation (Nimitz class ships) but will look different. The most noticeable difference will be the island set closer to the stern (rear) of the ship. The USS Ford is expected to cost nearly $14 billion. About 40 percent of that is for designing the first ship of the class, so the actual cost of the first ship (CVN 78) itself will be some $9 billion. Against this the navy expects to reduce the carrier's lifetime operating expenses by several billion dollars because of greatly reduced crew size. Compared to the current Nimitz class carriers (which cost over $5 billion each) the Fords will feel, well, kind of empty. There will be lots more automation, computer networking, and robots. The most recent Nimitz class ships have a lot of this automation already. That also includes new damage control equipment, which the navy does not like to publicize, if only to keep the enemy guessing.