See What $13 Billion Gets The US Navy; The Biggest, Most Expensive Aircraft Carrier Ever

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All in all, there are 19 active aircraft carriers around the world. As you’ll see in this article, the vast majority of those belong to the United States. However, there are interesting technological developments being made in the world of aircraft carriers. Nations like England, China and Russia have exciting possibilities with carriers moving forward.

John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) in Dry Dock 12 the day before Newport News Shipbuilding floods the dry dock to move the ship.
Ashley Cowan, Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

The definition of an aircraft carrier is fairly loose. With the United States’ Nimitz-class of “super carriers”, all others tend to shy away in size and capability. Some carriers are labeled more as helicopter-carriers than aircraft carriers. However, the simplest definition of an aircraft carrier is: a warship with a flight deck on which aircraft can be launched and landed.

USS George H.W. Bush is underway.
Lt. Winston Likert, U.S. Navy

Before we get too deep in explaining the absurd characteristics and supreme design of the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier — USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) — let’s take a step back and see how this bountiful boat came to be. We’ll even touch on what this means for the rest of the world, and what’s next for the U.S. Navy and its aircraft carriers. The United States currently operates 13 aircraft carriers. USS John F Kennedy CVN-79  is the second member of the newest class of aircraft carriers, the Gerald R. Ford-class. The now-operational USS Gerald R. Ford is the first in the latest generation..

USS Roosevelt, Nimitz, Reagan
Lt. Aaron B. Hicks, U.S. Navy

The other ten aircraft carriers belong to the Nimitz-class of aircraft carriers, which are steadily becoming outdated, according to the Department of Defense.

Valiant Shield 2018
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erwin Miciano, U.S. Navy

The currently operational aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy are the: USS Interprise (CVN 65), USS Nimitz (CVN 68), USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), USS George Washington (CVN 73), USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), and USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).

HMS Queen Elizabeth

Outside of the United States — which operates 13 aircraft carriers — there are 8 other aircraft carriers of comparable size in the world. They are: Guiseppe Garibaldi of Italy, Admiral Kuznetsov of Russia, HMTS Chakri Naruebet of Thailand, Charles de Gaulle of France, Cavour of Italy, Liaoning of China, INS Vikramaditya of India, and the HMS Queen Elizabeth of England.


USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) is the second of ten carriers in line for production. The Ford-class carriers will replace all Nimitz-class carriers.


President John F. Kennedy’s daughter and former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline, christened PCU John F. Kennedy during a Huntington-Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding division ceremony in Newport News. But that’s not the first time she christened a ship named after her father…


As a nine-year-old girl, Caroline broke open the bottle of sparkling wine on the hull of the first USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) in May 1967, which marked the beginning of the end of an era for conventionally powered aircraft carriers.

A bow view of the aircraft carrier USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV-67) underway.

It’s the second aircraft carrier to be named after the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. The first one’s identification code is CVN-67 and the new one’s identification code is CVN-79.

CVN79 Kennedy Upper Bow Lift

Now that you know where CVN 79 stands, let’s get into the nitty gritty of USS John F. Kennedy. CVN-79 was first laid down in 2015, was launched in October of 2019, and christened on December 7th, 2019 by John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline.

Digital Shipbuilding on CVN 79

USS John F. Kennedy carries on a shipbuilding tradition, as many of the aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy fleet are built by Newport News Shipbuilding/Huntington Ingalls. CVN 79 however, is aided this go round by Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding.

CVN 79 Kennedy Upper Bow Lift, Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

Officially, USS John F. Kennedy is set to cost the Department of Defense $11.5 million, roughly. However, with an excess of delays, it may be more like $13 million or more when it’s all said and done.

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

Speaking of cost, the good news is that the Ford-class aircraft carriers expect to deliver a roughly $4 billion reduction in cost over the carrier’s life cycle when compared to the Nimitz-class carriers.

Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Maxwell Higgins, U.S. Navy

While we’re comparing the two, Ford-class carriers claim the new ships can launch sorties at a 25-33 percent higher clip than Nimitz-class carriers. That’s a big tactical advantage.

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is expected to have the ability to travel for up to 25 years before running out of energy.

CVN79 JFK Prop Install
Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

The USS John F. Kennedy weighs 100,000 long tons. Which is a whopping 224,000,000 pounds – it’s truly amazing to think an entity of that weight can still remain atop the water!

USS Gerald R. Ford — Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ridge Leoni, U.S. Navy

How long is 1,106 feet? Three and a half football fields…368 yards to be exact. That’s as long as a par 4 at Pebble Beach! That’s also as long as the USS John F. Kennedy. Compare that to a 1,052-foot length of USS John F. Kennedy CVN-67.

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

At the waterline, the beam of the aircraft carrier measures 134 feet across. At the flight deck, it’s taped at 256 feet across. Compare that to a 252-foot beam of USS John F. Kennedy CVN-67.

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

Four massive propellers will push the CVN-79 forward. These will aid in getting the aircraft carrier to a top speed of 35 mph.

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

Although the upgrades are expensive, the life-cost of the aircraft carrier is expected to save the U.S. Navy $4 billion in total ownership costs over it’s 50-year lifespan.

Digital Shipbuilding on CVN 79, Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

The aircraft carrier is one of the first in the U.S. Navy to revolutionize its use of technology. From the Ford-class website:

“The wire ways that run throughout the ship hang from studs welded to the ceiling. On Ford, those studs—which number in the hundreds of thousands—were laid out and installed after the units were assembled. Picture shipbuilders on ladders, reading 2-D drawings, grinding and welding the steel overhead. Let’s just say it was time-consuming.
On Kennedy, intelligent marking is drastically improving the process. Data from the 3-D product model is being fed to a machine that marks the steel plates with the locations of each stud in the shop before the steel becomes part of a unit. This saves shipbuilders from the time-consuming task of manually marking the stud locations overhead. A related benefit is avoiding “hot work” overhead. All the shipbuilders have to do now is stand on the steel plate and install the studs already marked out for them, which is much safer and quicker than the same job done overhead.”

John F Kennedy CVN 79 Dry Dock 12 Flooding
Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

Piggybacking off the electrical transformation of USS John F. Kennedy, their digital mapping system that aided in constructing the ship was revolutionary as well. From the Ford-class website:
“On Kennedy, engineers and designers developed software based on the common algorithm used by Google Maps, using it to find the optimal route for installing electrical cables throughout the ship.”

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

In the same amount of space as a Nimitz-class carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy has been able to fit another 1.3 million feet of cable.

There is nearly 10 million feet of electrical cable in the second Ford-class aircraft carrier.

CVN79 Aircraft Elev #3 Install
Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

Newport News Shipbuilding is utilizing augmented reality in it’s construction process! From the Ford-class website, “Newport News is leading the industry in developing AR for shipbuilding, already demonstrating countless uses, including being able to walk into a space and see objects that physically aren’t there yet. Right now, the most economical viewing window is an iPad, but in the future, shipbuilders’ safety glasses could allow them to see digital information overlaid onto the work surface hands-free.”

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

5,000 shipbuilders were involved in the building of the USS John F. Kennedy.

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls industries

200,000 gallons of paint were used to cover the exterior of CVN 79 – which is enough paint to cover The White House three times.

The USS John F. Kennedy contains over 4 million feet of fiber optic cable. Kitco Fiber Optics was contracted by the U.S. Navy for the job in the first two Ford-class carriers.

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

For all Ford-class aircraft carriers, including the USS John F. Kennedy, the island is smaller and further aft – which drastically increases the flight deck operational capability.

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

CVN 79 – through logistical efficiencies and increased flight deck size – can launch up to 25 percent more sorties than a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

Newport News Shipbuilding/Ingalls Industries

The island is shorter in length, but stands 20 feet taller than previous aircraft carriers’ islands. It is positioned 140 feet further aft and three feet further outboard than its predecessors.

The USS John F. Kennedy is the second aircraft carrier in the world to be built using a 3D model. Newport News Shipbuilding used a full-scale three-dimensional product model to design and plan the construction of the Ford-class of aircraft carriers. The significant investment allows visual integration in design, engineering, planning and construction.

John F. Kennedy CVN 79 unit 4159 lift 75% completion
John Whalen, Ingalls Industries

From the Ford-class website: “John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) is on track to complete erection of the ship’s hull with 452 crane lifts, 44 fewer than Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) and 142 less than George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), the last Nimitz-class carrier.”

Kennedy will embark approximately 70 aircraft, divided into squadrons and detachments. Each air wing consists of four strike fighter squadrons totaling 44 fighters. Currently those squadrons are filled with F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters. In addition there’s one electronic attack squadron with five EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, one carrier airborne early warning squadron with four E-2 Hawkeye early warning aircraft, one helicopter sea combat squadron with 8 MH-60S Seahawks, one helicopter maritime strike squadron with 11 MH-60R Seahawks, and two C-2A Greyhound carrier transports.


After CVN 79 will come, you guessed it, CVN 80! The next aircraft carrier in line is the USS Enterprise CVN-80. This will also replace it’s former namesake in the Nimitz-class, the USS Enterprise CVN-65.

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