• USS Gerald R. Ford being towed.

USS Gerald R. Ford being towed. (Photo : US Navy)

The largest aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy; in the world and in history -- the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) -- will commence its long-delayed sea trials in March or April ahead of its commissioning, hopefully within this year.

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Her commissioning will give the Navy 11 operational nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the largest number of carriers in active service this century. CVN-78 will also be the most technologically advanced aircraft carrier with the world, and will be the first carrier to deploy unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for reconnaissance and attack as a standard complement.

She will be the first to deploy new technologies such as the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) to launch its aircraft; the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) to recover them and an AN/SPY-3 active electronically scanned array multi-function radar effective in both blue water and littoral operations.

More ominously, CVN-78 and the two other carriers in its class that are building will have the electric power to fire electromagnetic railguns and combat lasers. These advanced features, however, have been the main causes of the delays that have pushed back the launch of the carrier.

Last January, the navy announced construction of CVN-78 was 99 percent complete. She was to have been launched in 2014 but numerous technical problems and cost overruns delayed her launch to this year.

CVN-78 is the lead ship in a new class of supercarrier that will complement the existing fleet of 10 Nimitz-class supercarriers. She will directly replace the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) that was retired in 2012.

CVN-78 was to have joined the fleet in March 2016 but teething troubles with its new systems have pushed that back to an uncertain date later in 2017 or 2018.

Fomer Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said there has been progress in resolving troublesome issues on the Gerald R. Ford (one of which is its advanced arresting gear). The delay is preventing CVN-78 from going to sea and beginning engineering trials. The ship remains moored at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.

Apart from the Gerald R. Ford, the other two carriers in the class are the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and the USS Enterprise (CVN-80).