Order Code RS20643
December 23, 2004
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Navy CVN-21 Aircraft Carrier Program:
Background and Issues for Congress
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Current Department of Defense (DOD) plans call for procuring the Navy’s next
aircraft carrier, called CVN-21, in FY2007. In early 2004, the Navy estimated that
CVN-21 would cost a total of about $3.1 billion develop and $8.6 billion to procure, for
a total acquisition cost of about $11.7 billion. Since FY2001, Congress has approved
a total of more than $1.4 billion in development funding and a total of more than $2.3
billion in advance procurement funding for the ship . The Navy in early 2004 projected
that it would request roughly $300 million in additional development funding and $600
million in additional advance procurement funding for the ship in the FY2006 budget
to be submitted to Congress in February 2005.
In August 2004, DOD stated that the estimated development cost for a 3-ship
carrier program (CVN-21 plus two similar follow-on ships to be procured in later years)
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. It was
separately reported in August 2004 that the Navy’s draft FY2006-FY2011 shipbuilding
plan would delay procurement of CVN-21 by one year, to FY2008. Such a delay would
almost certainly increase the procurement cost of the ship, perhaps substantially. In
December 2004, it was reported that the DOD, as part of an effort to reduce future
defense funding requirements, was considering reducing the Navy’s current force of 12
carriers to as few as 9, which could affect the schedule for procuring new carriers. This
report will be updated as events warrant.
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 [CVN65]) 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 at a cost of
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
$4.97 billion and is scheduled to enter service in 2008 as the replacement for the Kitty
Hawk. In December 2004, it was reported that the DOD, as part of an effort to reduce
future defense funding requirements, is considering reducing the carrier force to as few
as 9 ships,1 which 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
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 , which was
named in honor of former president George H. W. Bush on December 9, 2002, was
originally to include new-design radars and a new-design combat system known as the
Integrated Warfare System (IWS) to be made by an industry team led by Lockheed
Martin. During 2002, however, the Navy backed away from this plan and announced that
the ship would instead be equipped with older-design radars and a combat system similar
to those used by previous Nimitz-class carriers. The conference report (H.Rept. 107-732
of October 9, 2002) on the FY2003 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 5010/ P.L. 107-248)
provided an additional $90 million for CVN-77 for IWS and contained language directing
the Navy to build the ship with an advanced combat system (page 185).
CVN-21 Program. In August 2004, DOD began describing the CVN-21 program
(CVN-21 simply means aircraft carrier for the 21st Century) as a 3-ship program
encompassing CVN-21 and two similar follow-on ships to be procured in later years. On
August 19, 2004, the Department of Defense (DOD) reported that the estimated
development cost for the 3-ship program had increased by $728 million, to $4.33 billion.
DOD now 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. The Navy wants to procure CVN-21 (also known as CVN-78) in FY2007
and commission it into service in 2014 as the replacement for the Enterprise (CVN-65),
which would then be 53 years old. The Navy in early 2004 estimated that CVN-21 would
cost about $3.1 billion to develop and $8.6 billion to procure, for a total acquisition cost
of about $11.7 billion. The $3.1 billion in estimated development costs for the CVN-21
represented most of the previously reported estimated development cost for the 3-ship
program. In light of this, much of the $728-million increase in the total development cost
for the 3-ship program might be due to an increase in the estimated development cost for
Bryan Bender, “Arms Reductions, Troop Increase Eyed,” Boston Globe, December 17, 2004:
1. See also Loren B. Thompson, “QDR Targets Weapons Programs; FCS, JSF Likely Hit,”
Defense Today, December 10, 2004: 1, 3-4.
CVN-21 itself. If so, then CVN-21’s estimated acquisition cost may now be more than
In mid-August 2004, it was reported that the Navy’s draft FY2006-FY2011
shipbuilding plan would delay procurement of CVN-21 by one year, to FY2008. Such a
delay would almost certainly increase the procurement cost of the ship, perhaps
substantially, bringing its total acquisition cost to well over $12 billion, and possibly
something closer to $13 billion.
The conference report (H.Rept. 108-622 of July 20, 2004) on the FY2005 defense
appropriations bill (H.R. 4613/P.L. 108-287 of August 5, 2004) approved the Navy’s
FY2005 advance procurement funding request ($626.1 million) for the CVN-21 program.
(See page 185). Since FY2001, Congress has approved a total of more than $1.4 billion
in development funding and a total of more than $2.3 billion in advance procurement
funding for the ship.
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.
In May 2002 , Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld directed DOD offices to
reexamine the need for 5 major defense acquisition programs, including CVNX-1. In
response, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) began studying several
alternatives to the Navy’s carrier acquisition plan, including procuring smaller
conventional carriers instead of large nuclear-powered carriers; procuring a repeat version
of CVN-77 in FY2007 instead of CVNX-1; and skipping procurement of CVNX-1.
In November and December 2002, after reviewing these alternatives, OSD decided
to alter the design of CVNX-1 to incorporate additional advanced features originally
intended for CVNX-2 (the name at the time for the next carrier after CVNX-1). These
changes included a new and enlarged flight deck, an increased allowance for future
technologies (including electric weapons), and additional manpower reductions.
Compared to the baseline Nimitz-class design, the ship would now require at least 500
fewer sailors to operate. To signify these changes , the ship’s name was changed from
CVNX-1 to CVN-21. Incorporating the changes increased the ship’s development cost
by about $600 million and its procurement cost by about $700 million. OSD reportedly
did not consider CVNX-1 sufficiently transformational; the CVN-21 proposal appears
intended to increase the transformational content of the ship. 2
The Navy in the latter months of 2002 proposed to fund the procurement of CVNX1/CVN-21 starting in FY2004 through the Navy’s research and development account
rather than the Navy’s ship-procurement account, known formally as the Shipbuilding and
Conversion, Navy (SCN) account. In December 2002, however, it was reported that the
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) objected to this proposal. As a result, the
Pentagon is proposing to fund the procurement of CVN-21 through the SCN account. 3
CVN-79. Navy plans have called for procuring CVN-79 (previously called the
CVN-21 Follow-On and, before that, CVNX-2) in FY2011 and commissioning it into
service in 2018 as the replacement for the John F. Kennedy, which would then be 50 years
old. Initial advance procurement funding for CVN-79 was programmed for FY2007. If,
however, procurement of CVN-21 is delayed a year, to FY2008, then it is possible that
procurement of CVN-79 could also be delayed by a year, to FY2012, which could delay
initial advance procurement funding a year, to FY2008. Compared to CVN-21, CVN-79
would feature a more significantly redesigned flight deck, an electromagnetic arresting
gear, and possibly hull-design improvements, including reactive armor protection.
CVN-80. This is the third ship in the 3-ship CVN-21 program. It nominally would
be procured a few years after procurement of CVN-79.
Table 1 on the next page shows procurement and development funding for CVN-21
and CVN-79 through FY2009, as reflected in the FY2005 budget and amended FY2005FY2009 Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) submitted to Congress in February 2004.
The figures in this table will likely change when DOD submits its proposed FY2006
budget and FY2006-FY2011 FYDP to Congress in February 2005.
For more on naval transformation, see CRS Report RS20851, Naval Transformation,
Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
The Navy reportedly wanted to start funding the procurement of CVNX-1/CVN-21 through the
Navy’s research and development account in part because the new technologies to be
incorporated into CVNX-1/CVN-21 give it somewhat the character of a research and
development activity as opposed to a straight procurement action. The Navy reportedly believed
that funding procurement of the ship through the research and development account would permit
the Navy to better manage the technical and cost risks involved in developing and building the
ship. Items acquired through research and development accounts are not subject to the full
funding policy as traditionally applied to DOD weapon procurement programs. If procured
through the research and development account, the Navy would be able, for example, to fund the
procurement of CVN-21 using a stream of annual funding increments — a funding strategy that,
when used in funding items procured through DOD procurement accounts, is called incremental
funding. Such a strategy would reduce the financial strain that procurement of CVN-21 would
place on the Navy budget in any single year. Congress, however, imposed the full funding policy
on DOD in the 1950s in part to end the use of incremental funding in defense procurement,
because it was viewed as having disadvantages in terms of reducing DOD budgeting discipline
and making the total costs of weapons less visible. For a discussion, see CRS Report RL31404,
Defense Procurement: Full Funding Policy — Background, Issues, and Options for Congress,
by Ronald O’Rourke and Stephen Daggett.
Table 1. Procurement and Development Funding for
CVN-21 and CVN-79, FY2001-FY2009
(as in FY2005 budget and FY2005-FY2009 FYDP submitted in February 2004)
Procurement (Shipbuilding and Conversion, Navy [SCN] account)
611.9 2806.8 2830.1
Development (Navy research and development account)
Source: Data provided to CRS by Navy Office of Legislative Affairs, February 17, 2004.
* Additional funding to be provided in FY2009 and future years.
21= CVN-21; 79 = CVN-79
Potential Issues for Congress
Affordability, Cost Effectiveness, and Potential Alternatives. With an
estimated average acquisition cost of about $12 billion per ship, would the 3 carriers in
the CVN-21 program be affordable and cost effective? Supporters could argue that in
spite of their cost, carriers are flexible platforms that in recent years have proven
themselves highly valuable in various U.S. military operations, particularly where U.S.
access to overseas bases has been absent or constrained. Carriers, they could argue, have
been useful not only not only for operating strike fighters and other tactical aircraft, but
also for embarking Army forces (as during the 1994 Haiti crisis) and special operations
forces (as in the 2001-2002 war in Afghanistan). Supporters could also argue that
Congress is already heavily committed to procuring CVN-21, having approved more than
$3. 7 billion of the ship’s total acquisition cost from FY2001 through FY2005.
Skeptics, while acknowledging the operational value of large carriers, could question
whether, in light of their cost, there might be more cost effective alternatives. Potential
alternatives include, among other things, smaller carriers about the size of today’s Wasp
(LHD-1) class amphibious assault ships, which might cost roughly $3 billion to procure;
UAV/UCAV carriers (which would be designed to embark air wings composed mostly
of unmanned air vehicles [UAVs] and unmanned combat air vehicles [UCAVs]); and very
small carriers, such as high-speed ships large enough to embark roughly half a dozen
manned tactical aircraft each. Skeptics could argue that, even though substantial funds
have already been appropriated for CVN-21, not all of these funds have been expended,
and that , if large carriers are not cost effective compared to alternatives, Congress should
not “throw good money after bad” by continuing to fund CVN-21.
Funding Profile and Full Funding Policy. The Navy has divided the final
portion of CVN-21’s procurement cost between FY2007 and FY2008. The Navy
apparently adopted this approach, which is called split funding, in part to reduce financial
strain on the FY2007 budget. Split funding (a form of incremental funding) is a departure
from the full funding policy — a defense budgeting rule that requires the full procurement
cost of any item procured through the procurement title of the defense appropriations act
to be provided in the year in which the item is procured.4 Potential questions for Congress
to consider include the following: Should CVN-21 be procured with split funding?
Would this set a precedent for using split funding to procure other DOD weapons? What
effect would split funding or a large amount of advance procurement funding for CVN-21
have on adherence to the full funding policy? What would be the impact on the
procurement schedules and costs of other Navy procurement programs if split funding
were not used?
Possibility of Delay In Procurement to FY2008. As mentioned earlier, in
mid-August 2004, it was reported that the Navy’s draft FY2006-FY2011 shipbuilding
plan would delay procurement of CVN-21 by one year, to FY2008. Such a delay might
be due to the Navy’s inability in FY2007 to provide the portion of CVN-21’s cost that
would be needed to support procuring the ship in FY2007 while also funding other
programs that year, including procurement of the first DD(X) destroyer5 and procurement
of an amphibious assault ship called LHA(R).6 Potential questions for Congress to
consider include the following: How would delaying procurement of CVN-21 one year,
to FY2008, affect the procurement cost of the ship? Are there alternative funding
approaches, for CVN-21, the first DD(X), LHA(R), or some combination, that would
permit all three ships to be procured in FY2007, and what are the potential advantages and
disadvantages of these alternative approaches?
Possibility of Reduction in Carrier Force Level. As mentioned, earlier, in
December 2004, it was reported that the DOD, as part of an effort to reduce future defense
funding requirements, is considering reducing the carrier force to as few as 9 ships.
Potential questions for Congress to consider include the following: What effect would
reducing the carrier force from 12 ships to 11, 10, or 9 ships have on the Navy’s ability
to perform its missions? What effect would it have on the need for procuring, or the
schedule for procuring, CVN-21 and follow-on aircraft carriers?
For a discussion of these issues, see CRS Report RL31404, op cit.
For more on the DD(X) program, see CRS Report RS21059, Navy DD(X) Destroyer Program:
Background and Issues for Congress, by Roald O’Rourke, and CRS Report RL32109, Navy
DD(X) and LCS Ship Acquisition Programs: Oversight Issues and Options for Congress, by
For more on the LHA(R), see CRS Report RL32513, Navy-Marine Corps Amphibious and
Maritime Prepositioning Ship Programs: Background and Oversight Issues for Congress, by