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Research Questions

  1. How does the current USS Gerald R. Ford–class program compare with alternatives in terms of procurement cost and effectiveness?
  2. If the findings support further Navy or congressional actions to transition to a lower-cost carrier replacement in long-range shipbuilding plans, what might that look like?

Although the integrated carrier air wing is the actual component of sea-based tactical aviation delivering warfighting capability for power projection, the individual air wings require aviation support for launch and recovery at tactical distances, fuel and flight crew replenishment, maintenance, and other sustainment. The aircraft carrier and embarked crew provide this support.

Some are concerned that continuing the current carrier program imposes high acquisition cost and might unduly affect the whole of the Navy shipbuilding budget. The Senate Armed Services Committee noted that alternatives could be developed for less cost and potentially with sufficient capability. This led to a request for the Navy to examine lower-cost alternatives.

This report is a shorter version of a classified, restricted-distribution report provided to the Navy in July 2016. Neither report is of a formal analysis of alternatives or detailed engineering study, nor is either a requirement document. It is an exploration of possible alternatives for further consideration to potentially replace the legacy force as it begins reaching expected service life in decades to come. The variants analyzed are possible alternatives and do not represent recommendations for a specific future course of action.

Key Findings

Each Variant Affects Force Sortie Generation

  • A CVN 8X, a descoped Ford-class carrier, offers similar warfighting capability to that of the Ford-class carrier.
  • A CVN LX offers an integrated, current air wing with capabilities near current levels but with less organic mission endurance for weapons and aviation fuel.
  • The CV LX, which is a version of the LHA 6 platforms, might be a low-risk, alternative pathway for the Navy to reduce carrier costs if such a variant were procured in greater numbers than the current carrier shipbuilding plan.
  • The smallest concept variant reviewed, the CV EX, does not provide either a significant capacity or an integrated air wing.

Each Variant Affects Cost

  • A CVN 8X might generate fewer sorties than the Ford class and might only incrementally reduce overall platform cost.
  • A CVN LX concept would allow considerable savings across the ship's service life.
  • A CV LX could potentially reduce overall construction costs if it allowed for reduced carrier numbers were reduced.
  • A CV EX is not practical at all without considerable revision of Navy warfighting concept of operations.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Operational Requirements

  • Chapter Three

    Aircraft Carrier Variants Considered

  • Chapter Four

    Assessing Operational Impact of Carrier Concept Variants

  • Chapter Five

    Platform Comparison Cost

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions

  • Appendix A

    U.S. Navy Forwarding Letters

  • Appendix B

    Details of the Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier Mission-Essential Task List and Deployment Preparation

  • Appendix C

    Aircraft and Seacraft Mentioned

This research was sponsored by the Assessment Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by 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.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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