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German frigate joining newest US aircraft carrier on maiden deployment

F124 frigate FGS Hessen
German Navy file photo of FGS Hessen

A German air-defense frigate is poised to become one of the first international warships to sail alongside the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier as it embarks on a maiden deployment this fall.

Sachsen-class frigate FGS Hessen is set to get underway from its homeport in Wilhelmshaven on September 5 to join USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), the lead ship of the new class of US aircraft carriers, and its carrier strike group (CSG).

While underway with USS Gerald R. Ford, the German frigate will be responsible for providing air defense for ships in the carrier strike group and will be its integral part.

Before beginning operations, the frigate will also be part of operational training carried out by each US CSG before a deployment. FGS Hessen is expected to return home in November this year, after three months of operations.

The frigate is scheduled to make port calls in Reykjavik, Iceland, Norfolk in the US, and Halifax in Canada.

“The crew expect strenuous days at sea as part of the training program,” says the ship’s commander, Frigate Captain Volker Kübsch.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) in the Atlantic
USS Gerald R. Ford underway at sea. Photo: US Navy

In preparation for its first deployment, USS Gerald R. Ford has embarked its air wing, CVW-8, for system qualification tests, flight deck certification, three phases of air warfare training, and a combat systems operational readiness evaluation.

USS Gerald R. Ford commissioned in July 2017 but the maiden deployment was pushed back several times as the navy tackled multiple problems presented by the ship’s numerous new technologies. In addition to being the first new design in decades, Ford incorporates over 20 new technologies, including all-new systems for the arming, launching and recovering carrier-based aircraft.

The service took several years to address the ship’s weapons elevators, completing the process in December last year. The other major issues the carrier faced were the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS), which is replacing the traditional steam catapults, and the advanced arresting gear that allows aircraft to land on the ship at sea.

While this will be the first operational deployment for USS Gerald R. Ford, this is not the first time FGS Hessen is operating with a US Navy CSG. In 2018, the Hessen was part of the USS Harry S. Truman CSG, sailing to the US east coast and accompanying the strike group for three months of operations in European waters.

Hessen is one of three Sachsen-class (also known as F124) frigates in the German Navy. The ships are equipped with the SMART-L long-range radar for defense against stealth aircraft and missiles. They employ ESSM surface-to-air and SM-2 Block IIIA area defense missiles.