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The Future

 DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Navy CVN-21 Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Congressional Research Service Report for Congress

Ronald O'Rourke
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress
Updated 25 May 2005

Summary

CVN-21 is the Navy's next planned aircraft carrier. Congress has been providing advance procurement funding for the ship since FY2001. The Navy's FY2006 budget submission requests $565 million in FY2006 advance procurement funding for the ship and defers its procurement by one year, to FY2008. The Navy estimates that CVN-21 would cost about $3.2 billion to develop and about $10.5 billion to procure, for a total estimated acquisition cost of about $13.7 billion. This report will be updated as events warrant.

Background

The Navy's Current Carrier Force. The current carrier force of 12 ships includes 2 conventionally powered carriers (the Kitty Hawk [CV-63] and the John F. Kennedy [CV-67]) and 10 nuclear-powered carriers (the one-of-a-kind Enterprise [CVN- 65]) and 9 Nimitz-class ships [CVN-68 through -76]. The most recently commissioned carrier, the Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), was procured in FY1995 at a cost of $4.45 billion and entered service in July 2003 as the replacement for the Constellation (CV-64). The next carrier, the George H. W. Bush (CVN-77), was procured in FY2001 and is scheduled to enter service in 2008 as the replacement for the Kitty Hawk. The Navy is proposing to retire the John F. Kennedy in FY2006 and thereby reduce the carrier force to 11 ships.1 The Department of Defense (DOD) is considering reducing the carrier force further, to 10 or 9 ships. These developments could affect the schedule for procuring new carriers.

The Aircraft Carrier Construction Industrial Base.

All U.S. aircraft carriers procured since FY1958 have been built by Northrop Grumman's Newport News Shipbuilding (NGNN) of Newport News, VA -- the only U.S. shipyard that can build large-deck, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The aircraft carrier construction industrial base also includes hundreds of subcontractors and suppliers in dozens of states.

Navy Aircraft Carrier Acquisition Programs. Navy aircraft carrier acquisition efforts currently revolve around CVN-77 and the CVN-21 program. Each of these is discussed below.

CVN-77. Congress approved $4,053.7 million in FY2001 procurement funding to complete CVN-77's total procurement cost of $4,974.9 million. The ship's estimated total procurement cost has since grown to about $6.35 billion. The ship was named in honor of former president George H. W. Bush on December 9, 2002.

CVN-21 Program. CVN-21 (also called CVN-78) is the next planned aircraft carrier after CVN-77. CVN-21 simply means aircraft carrier for the 21st Century. In August 2004 DOD began describing the CVN-21 program as a 3-ship program encompassing CVN-21 and two similar follow-on ships (CVN-79 and CVN-80) to be procured in later years. On August 19, 2004, DOD reported that the estimated development cost for the 3-ship program had increased by $728 million, to $4.33 billion. DOD estimates that the 3-ship program would have a total acquisition cost of about $36.1 billion ($4.33 billion for development and $31.75 billion for procurement), or an average of about $12 billion per ship.

CVN-21. CVN-21 is to be the replacement for the Enterprise, which is scheduled to retire in 2012-2014, at age 51-53, depending on how long its nuclear fuel core lasts. The Navy's FY2006 budget submission defers the procurement of CVN-21 by one year, to FY2008. If procured in FY2008, CVN-21 would enter service in 2015.

Congress has been providing advance procurement funding for CVN-21 since FY2001. The Navy's FY2006 budget requests $565 million in advance procurement funding for the ship. The Navy estimates that CVN-21 would cost about $3.2 billion to develop and about $10.5 billion to procure, for a total estimated acquisition cost of about $13.7 billion. This estimate is $2 billion higher than the Navy's estimate from early 2004. The Navy estimates that about $400 million of this increase is due to the decision to defer the procurement of the ship to FY2008.

Under the Navy's proposed funding plan, 35.2% of CVN-21's procurement cost is to be provided in the form of advance procurement funding between FY2001 and FY2007, 33.5% is to be provided in the procurement year of FY2008, and 31.3% is to be provided in FY2009. Dividing the main portion of the ship's procurement cost between two years (FY2008 and FY2009) is called split funding, which is a form of incremental funding. Some Navy officials, Members of Congress, and industry officials have called for making greater use of incremental funding or another funding approach called advance appropriations for funding expensive ships like CVN-21.2

The Navy originally wanted the carrier after CVN-77 to be a completely new-design aircraft carrier (hence its initial name of CVNX-1, rather than CVN-78). In May 1998, however, the Navy announced that it could not afford to develop an all-new design for the ship and would instead continue to modify the Nimitz-class design with each new carrier that is procured. Under this strategy, CVN-77 and CVNX-1 were to be, technologically, the first and second ships in an evolutionary series of carrier designs.

Compared to the baseline Nimitz-class design, CVNX-1 was to require 300 to 500 fewer sailors to operate and would feature an entirely new and less expensive nuclear reactor plant, a new electrical distribution system, and an electromagnetic (as opposed to steam-powered) aircraft catapult system. In large part because of the reduction in crew size, CVNX-1 was projected to have a lower life-cycle operation and support (O&S) cost than the baseline Nimitz-class design. CVNX-1 was to cost $2.54 billion to develop and $7.48 billion to procure, giving it a total acquisition cost of $10.02 billion.




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