Magazine article National Defense

Analysts Explore Aircraft Carrier Alternatives

Magazine article National Defense

Analysts Explore Aircraft Carrier Alternatives

Article excerpt

* The Pentagon could save money by jettisoning plans for future Ford-class aircraft carriers and pursuing alternatives. But doing so would require capability tradeoffs and a reconsideration of operating concepts, analysts said.

The Ford-class program is projected to cost approximately $140 billion, RAND Corp. analysts Bradley Martin and Michael McMahon said in a Navy-commissioned report, "Future Aircraft Carrier Options," which was released in October.

The newest ship in the class, USS Enterprise, is estimated to cost $13 billion. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the current price tag for the vessels is "unacceptable." He is pushing the Navy to procure smaller alternatives.

"In executing its long-range shipbuilding plan, the U.S. Navy is facing financial challenges that require it to evaluate potential lower-cost options for its most expensive platforms," the RAND report said.

It examined four alternative carrier design concepts that the service could pursue.

One was a nuclear-powered vessel similar in size to the 100,000-ton Ford-class but with two life-of-the-ship reactors and other equipment and system changes intended to reduce costs. This variant was referred to as CVN 8X.

A second option, called CVN LX, was a 70,000-ton USS Forrestal-sized carrier with a hybrid propulsion plant and an updated flight deck that could host existing air wings.

A third option, named CV LX, was a 43,000-ton variant of the America--class amphibious ship that would be fossil fuel-powered. It would only support short take-off and vertical landing aircraft operations but at a higher tempo than the USS America.

A fourth option, referred to as CV EX, was a 20,000-ton vessel similar to escort carriers that some allied navies possess. It would be conventionally powered and would only be able to host vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

"Each of these brings different levels of capability," the report said.

CVN 8X would have similar capabilities as the Ford-class but it would not be able to stay in the fleet as long, the report noted.

The ship "might generate fewer sorties than the current key performance parameter values for the Ford-class and might have only incremental reduction in overall platform cost," it said. "Between the developmental costs and a reduced service life, there is little cost advantage in this variant. …

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