VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Jondanae Garza was in elementary school when the first steel cut for the USS Gerald R. Ford was made in 2005. Now, 17 years later, she shares a milestone with the newest warship and the Navy’s most technologically advanced – both deploying for the first time.
The Ford departed on October 4 from Naval Station Norfolk, embarking on a two-month deployment to train with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. During the special deployment, which comes after nearly two decades of construction, the crew will hone the capabilities of the warship’s 23 new technologies.
One such technology is the Advanced Damage Control System – a unique system that Garza learned while performing her duties as Hull Maintenance Technician Second Class for the ship. She is one of 26, out of a crew of around 4,000 sailors, working with this new technology.
“Some of my friends – other sailors – are jealous that I’m on this carrier,” Garza, 25, said with a laugh. “Being on this ship, with a whole new classification, there’s a lot of cool stuff here.”
The Ford is the first new class of aircraft carrier designed in more than four decades, ushering in a new generation of warships equipped with never-before-seen technologies intended to bolster the Navy’s strike power for at least the next 50 years. The Navy invited journalists aboard the $13 billion aircraft carrier two days after its deployment to see some of the technology in action, which includes new aircraft launch technology, electromagnetic weapon lifts and dual-band radar.
The warship transports the Navy into the 21st century, Captain Paul Lanzilotta said.
“I don’t like buzzwords, so I’m not going to say ‘game changer’ or ‘transformational,’ but now is the time,” Lanzilotta said of the Ford.
The new technology extends beyond the warship’s defensive capabilities.
Below deck, the advanced damage control system allows Garza’s team to easily trace the location of fires and floods – or anything that would threaten the survivability of the over 1,100ft-long carrier. . This allows Ford’s damage control division to quickly dispatch sailors, whether hull technicians like Garza or firefighting damage control members, to the incident.
“You type it into the advanced damage control system, then boom, it’s right there. You’re able to think faster about what’s needed to respond and you know exactly where you’re going,” Garza said.
The easy-to-use touchscreen program replaces multi-page paper tracing of ship plans with a grease pencil, cutting the division’s response time by about 10 precious minutes, Garza said. The system also allows quick searches for the equipment and parts needed to make repairs, rather than manual drawer searches.
Garza, who is a Norfolk transplant from Las Vegas, reported to the Ford in 2020. While she has spent the past two years learning the ins and outs of the ship, the past two months have been dedicated to the proficiency with the advanced damage control system.
Just days after the first deployment, the system, Garza said, has already reduced vulnerabilities caused by human error and communication interruptions. When someone radioed a potential problem, members of damage control were dispatched to the wrong place on the ship.
“When they grabbed it from central control, plotting from the advanced damage control system, they got the correct location and called us on our radios, so we were able to correct ourselves quickly,” Garza said.
Garza also works with the Machinery Control and Monitoring System, another technology unique to Ford. The system includes sensors that detect flooding and when sprinklers have been activated, and immediately alerts watchmen.
“As soon as these sensors kick in, we can go do our thing,” Garza said.
The Ford is the first in a series of new transporters to be completed that will replace the current Nimitz class. It will be joined by the John F. Kennedy in 2024. The Enterprise is expected to join the fleet in 2028 and the Doris Miller in 2032.
Cmdt. Jim “Gun Boss” Fish said Ford’s sailors will be instrumental in training future generations of servicemen for this new generation of carriers.
“There are sailors on board here who are inquiring about this vessel. And they’re going to do and teach things on the ship that their grandkids are going to take with them when they’re on the Doris Miller,” Fish said.
In the meantime, some of the technology that makes Ford-class carriers so unique will be implemented in Nimitz-class warships to enhance the capabilities of the Navy’s older warships. For Garza, this means she will have the opportunity to become a leader when she moves to another carrier in the years to come.
“When I go to another type of ship, I can help junior sailors. I can try to summarize (the new methods) so they understand it and I can switch to the advanced damage control system and show them how to use it,” Garza said.
According to Garza, new sailors will quickly adapt to the high-tech carrier as the warship’s digital systems replace outdated methods with technology they are familiar with: touchscreens. At the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk, where Garza was previously assigned, it was all about the keyboard.
“When I got here it was a lot easier. (The touch screens) and how to use them (the advanced damage control system) is very easy to understand,” Garza said.
Garza will be tied to the Ford until 2025. She said she hopes her next transporter will be a Nimitz-class – “for the experience.”
“But I’m so used to the Ford and the new technology, maybe I have to try for the USS John F. Kennedy,” she said.