The Navy's newest aircraft carrier -- the USS Gerald R. Ford -- gets christened Saturday in Norfolk, Va., with the traditional bottle of champagne being smashed open on its massive hull to bring good luck.

With an estimated price tag of $12.8 billion, the Ford is the most expensive piece of military hardware in history. As such, it boasts an array of dazzling military technologies -- from electromagnetic aircraft launchers to a new kind of dual-band radar -- that the Pentagon says is needed to keep the aircraft carrier relevant in future wars.

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When commissioned in 2016, the ship will have 500 fewer sailors than existing carriers, while generating three times more electrical power and the ability to launch more than 160 aircraft each day.

But all this technology has a steep price tag, and Navy officials have drawn fire from Congressional budget watchdogs for allowing the cost of the ship to balloon 22 percent over budget.

"The construction cost went way over budget because of new technologies they introduced at the same time," said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations. "Normally you try to take an evolutionary approach, of bringing in new things one at a time. With the Ford class they took a revolutionary approach, where they bring in a lot of technologies simultaneously."

Even though the ship is expensive, Navy officials say that it will save money over the long run because it has been designed more efficiently. The ship relies on two nuclear powered generators and won’t have to come in to dry dock for 12 years.

There are one-third fewer valves, resulting in less maintenance and a new air conditioning and filtration system that should keep remove salty sea air from the ship's innards. A reverse-osmosis desalinization plant provides water and a high-temperature plasma arc waste system converts 6,800 tons of waste a day into gaseous emissions.

The aircraft carrier Illustration by Mike Dillard

Navy officials say efficiency in energy, waste and reduced manpower will save $4 billion over the 40-year life of the ship. But is a hugely expensive and highly-complex aircraft carrier still relevant?

"Even in smaller conflicts, it has the ability to bring persistent combat power," said Adm. Thomas Moore, head of the Navy's executive office for aircraft carriers. "In this era of reduced basing rights throughout the world, and where we don't have the luxury of having a landing field, the aircraft carrier provides that capability."

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The ship's dual-band radar integrates two radars operating on different frequency bands to provide air traffic control, ship self-defense and other capabilities.

It also has a new anti-missile system and an aircraft launching system that uses electromagnetic runners similar to those found on roller coasters that will result in a smoother takeoff for both pilot and plane.

Moore says the new Ford class of carrier will also have the ability to operate the Navy's new laser weapon system that is being tested on another ship next year, as well as using long-range fighters and reconnaissance drones that can keep the carrier further away from a potential enemy’s reach.

The carrier's war-fighting and humanitarian-relief capabilities, however, have run up against the constraints of a Pentagon budget that is no longer a bottomless pit of money.

"The nation is going to have to think about how many carriers will the Navy need," said CSBA's Clark. "There's a reckoning that's going to have to be done between fiscal constraints and what we expect military to do. Were not in a sustainable position right now."