Here’s an interesting little tidbit from the current Congressional draft version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. The Act proposes increasing the legislatively mandated aircraft carrier level to increase from 11 to 12. (1) There are a number of interesting issues associated with this proposal.
- We currently don’t really have 11 carriers. One is always in long term overhaul so our effective carrier level is 10+1. Further, the USS Ford is non-functional and looks to remain that way for a few more years, at least.
- We currently only have 9 air wings. That means that the maximum number of combat capable carriers we can field is 9. The cost of an air wing is on the order of $6B [65 aircraft x $90M per aircraft (just a ballpark average for discussion purposes) = $5.85 billion] !!!! There is no mention of Congressional funding of any additional air wings. Adding carriers without air wings is illogical and pointless. Congress would be better to mandate and fund additional air wings prior to mandating additional carriers.
- Combat experience indicates that carriers should operate in groups of 4 during war. That might suggest carrier levels that are multiples of four although we can certainly mix and match during war depending on availabilities.
- Prior to the current shipbuilding budget, our annual shipbuilding budget was around $16B. A single Ford costs around $15B in actual costs. Every carrier we purchase costs an entire year’s worth of new construction of other ships unless Congress is prepared to provide an additional $15B for the mandated carrier. In other words, with no additional funding, we would gain one carrier and lose around ten other ships. One has to ask whether that is worth it especially given the lack of an air wing and the small size of the existing air wings.
- The Administration is opposed to an additional carrier. “The administration objects to a proposed increase from 11 aircraft carriers to 12, “which may not be sustainable” under the Navy’s current budget.” (1) This is odd given that Trump, himself, has called for 12 carriers from time to time.
- The runaway costs of the Ford class suggests the possibility of “small” carriers instead of $15B Ford class ships. “Small”, of course, is a relative term and refers to Midway to Forrestal size carriers, as I use the term.
I have not seen any detailed explanation for the Administration’s opposition to additional carriers. ComNavOps believes that the Navy needs around 15 large carriers but would only be in favor of a mandated increase if it comes with mandated air wings and funding.
ComNavOps also believes that the Ford class is unnecessary and that updated Nimitz class carriers are more than adequate.
ComNavOps also supports smaller Midway to Forrestal size carriers which could carry essentially a full air wing and cost half or less of what a Ford costs. Given that the Fords are twice the cost of the last Nimitz class carriers built, this seems eminently feasible.
(1)Defense News website, “The White House wants 37 items gone from the NDAA”, Joe Gould,