Occasionally it’s useful and fun to review some relatively recent history. Let’s look at carrier construction costs as we’ve transitioned from the last of the Nimitz class to the first of the Ford class. The primary reference for this trip down memory lane is the CRS report of 2007 (1).
Let’s set the stage by briefly reflecting on the improvements offered by the Ford over the Nimitz. Claimed improvements include,
- Increased sortie rate – This claim has been debunked and is not true.
- Improved EMALS catapult – This may offer a maintenance improvement or ease of use but claims of reduced wear and tear on aircraft are not backed up by any data and logic indicates that the claim is quite likely false.
- Improved arresting gear – This claim is also not backed by any data.
- Decreased manning – It remains to be seen whether this reduction is actually workable; the LCS reduced manning proved false.
- Dual band radar – While potentially a better radar than what the Nimitz class had, the tactical utility of such an advanced radar for a ship that has only short range, self-defense weapons is lacking and subsequent Fords reportedly will have a greatly reduced capability radar.
We see, then, that claims of improvements over the Nimitz class are marginal, at best. The question then becomes what price are we willing to pay for marginal improvements? Well, let’s look at the costs.
The Ford is going to wind up costing around $13B.
According to the CRS report, the last Nimitz cost $6.05B (2006) which translates to $7.14B (2015) when adjusted for inflation.
When we compare the Ford at $13B to the Nimitz at $7.14B, we see an 82% increase (nearly double!) in cost even after adjusting for inflation. Yikes! That’s probably worth another – Yikes!
Now for the amusing part. We’ve seen that the Navy’s acquisition cost estimates are consistently, absurdly low. Do you remember what the Navy estimated the Ford would cost? From the CRS report,
“The Navy estimates CVN-78’s [Ford] total acquisition (i.e., research and development plus procurement) cost at about $13.7 billion. This figure includes about $3.2 billion in research and development costs and about $10.5 billion in procurement costs.”
There you have it. The Navy’s estimate was $10.5B for procurement. Instead, procurement has ballooned to $13B. That’s a $2.5 billion dollar overrun. Bear in mind that Ford is nowhere near done, yet. The final overrun will be $3B plus. In fact, the Navy is now engaged in deferring work until after delivery in order to meet the Congressional cost cap.
Oh, for the days when we thought we could build a carrier for only $10.5B …
(1)Congressional Research Service, “Navy CVN-21 Aircraft Carrier Program:
Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O’Rourke, Jan 2007