July 26, 2012: The U.S. Navy's newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78), is about 80 percent complete and on schedule to enter service in three years. As the new ship nears completion, details of some of its novel design features get out. 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). 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 first ship of the next class of carriers, the Ford 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 to built) 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.