Changing Aircraft Carrier Procurement Schedules

Effects That a Five-Year Procurement Cycle Would Have on Cost, Availability, and Shipyard Manpower and Workload

by John F. Schank, James G. Kallimani, Jess Chandler, Mark V. Arena, Carter C. Price, Clifford A. Grammich

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Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are the largest, most capable, and most survivable ships in the U.S. Navy. In the mid-1990s, there were 15 aircraft carriers in the Navy fleet; today, there are 11. The Secretary of Defense recently announced plans to shift the Navy aircraft carrier acquisition program to extend the cycle for acquiring a new aircraft carrier from approximately every four years to five years. In the long run, this could have the effect of reducing the number of aircraft carriers to ten. Shifting from the 30-year shipbuilding plan (SBP) to a five-year authorization cycle for acquiring aircraft carriers should have almost no impact on force structure and the industrial base in the next decade. Beyond the early 2020s, however, the five-year plan results in an increasingly smaller aircraft carrier force structure and a lower probability of meeting goals for the number of deployed aircraft carriers. The five-year plan will have an impact on the total acquisition costs of CVN 79 and CVN 80 due to the effects of inflation. The five-year plan could have a larger effect on any subsequent desire to increase the number of aircraft carriers in the fleet. Although the number of aircraft carriers can be rather quickly reduced through early retirements, a construction cycle of at least four years, coupled with seven or more years between authorization and delivery, means that it can take decades to add an aircraft carrier to the fleet. Policymakers might wish to consider this inability to rapidly expand the aircraft carrier force more than any of the factors considered here.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Background on Carrier Operations and the Industrial Base

  • Chapter Three

    Aircraft Carrier Force-Structure Analysis

  • Chapter Four

    Aircraft Carrier Cost Analysis

  • Chapter Five

    Aircraft Carrier Vendor-Base Health Analysis

  • Chapter Six

    Public Shipyards

  • Chapter Seven

    Summary Findings

  • Appendix

    Workloads by Skill

The research described in this report was prepared for the United States Navy. The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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