Order Code RS20643
May 25, 2005
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
CVN-21 is the Navy’s next planned aircraft carrier. Congress has been providing
advance procurement funding for the ship since FY2001. The Navy’s FY2006 budget
submission requests $565 million in FY2006 advance procurement funding for the ship
and defers its procurement by one year, to FY2008. The Navy estimates that CVN-21
would cost about $3.2 billion to develop and about $10.5 billion to procure, for a total
estimated acquisition cost of about $13.7 billion. This report will be updated as events
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 and is scheduled
to enter service in 2008 as the replacement for the Kitty Hawk. The Navy is proposing
to retire the John F. Kennedy in FY2006 and thereby reduce the carrier force to 11 ships.1
The Department of Defense (DOD) is considering reducing the carrier force further, to
10 or 9 ships. These developments 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.
For discussion of this issue, see CRS Report RL32731, Navy Aircraft Carriers: Proposed
Retirement of USS John F. Kennedy — Issues and Options for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
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’s estimated
total procurement cost has since grown to about $6.35 billion. The ship was named in
honor of former president George H. W. Bush on December 9, 2002.
CVN-21 Program. CVN-21 (also called CVN-78) is the next planned aircraft
carrier after CVN-77. CVN-21 simply means aircraft carrier for the 21st Century. In
August 2004 DOD began describing the CVN-21 program as a 3-ship program
encompassing CVN-21 and two similar follow-on ships (CVN-79 and CVN-80) to be
procured in later years. On August 19, 2004, DOD reported that the estimated
development cost for the 3-ship program 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.
CVN-21. CVN-21 is to be the replacement for the Enterprise, which is scheduled
to retire in 2012-2014, at age 51-53, depending on how long its nuclear fuel core lasts.
The Navy’s FY2006 budget submission defers the procurement of CVN-21 by one year,
to FY2008. If procured in FY2008, CVN-21 would enter service in 2015.
Congress has been providing advance procurement funding for CVN-21 since
FY2001. The Navy’s FY2006 budget requests $565 million in advance procurement
funding for the ship. The Navy estimates that CVN-21 would cost about $3.2 billion to
develop and about $10.5 billion to procure, for a total estimated acquisition cost of about
$13.7 billion. This estimate is $2 billion higher than the Navy’s estimate from early 2004.
The Navy estimates that about $400 million of this increase is due to the decision to defer
the procurement of the ship to FY2008.
Under the Navy’s proposed funding plan, 35.2% of CVN-21’s procurement cost is
to be provided in the form of advance procurement funding between FY2001 and
FY2007, 33.5% is to be provided in the procurement year of FY2008, and 31.3% is to be
provided in FY2009. Dividing the main portion of the ship’s procurement cost between
two years (FY2008 and FY2009) is called split funding, which is a form of incremental
funding. Some Navy officials, Members of Congress, and industry officials have called
for making greater use of incremental funding or another funding approach called advance
appropriations for funding expensive ships like CVN-21.2
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
For discussion of this issue, see CRS Report RL32776, Navy Ship Procurement: Alternative
Funding Approaches — Background and Options for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
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 500 to 800
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.3
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.4
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,
CVN-79. Until recently 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. The FY2006-FY2011 FYDP, however, defers procurement of CVN-79
beyond FY2011. And as mentioned earlier, the Navy is proposing to retire the John F.
Kennedy in FY2006. 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 CVN-79.
Table 1 below shows funding for CVN-21 and CVN-79 through FY2011.
Table 1. Procurement and Development Funding for
CVN-21 and CVN-79, FY2001-FY2011
(millions of then-year dollars, rounded to nearest million; figures may not add due to rounding)
FY01 FY02 FY03 FY04 FY05 FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11
Procurement (Shipbuilding and Conversion, Navy [SCN] account)
Development (Navy research and development account)
Source: U.S. Navy data provided to CRS March 23, 2005.
21= CVN-21; 79 = CVN-7; n/a = not available.
a. Additional funding to be provided beyond FY2011.
Potential Issues for Congress
Accelerating CVN-21 To FY2007. One potential issue for Congress concerns
CVN-21’s year of procurement. Deferring CVN-21’s procurement to FY2008, and thus
its entry into service to 2015, will create a minimum one-year gap between the retirement
of the Enterprise in 2012-2014 and its replacement by CVN-21, temporarily reducing the
size of the carrier force by one ship during that time. Some observers have proposed
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.
accelerating procurement of CVN-21 back to FY2007 to reduce the operational risks of
a temporary reduction in the carrier force and to avoid the roughly $400-million cost
increase of procuring the ship in FY2008.
The Navy wants to procure several other expensive ships in FY2007, including the
lead DD(X) destroyer and the LHA(R) amphibious ship.5 Accelerating CVN-21 to
FY2007 might require deferring procurement one of these ships, or some other ship
planned for FY2007, to FY2008 or another year. One option for accelerating CVN-21 to
FY2007 without necessarily deferring another ship from FY2007 to a later year would be
to use incremental funding or advance appropriations to fund either CVN-21 or one or
more of the ships now planned for FY2007.6
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
$3.8 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 the LHA(R)
amphibious assault ship, 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 small carriers,
such as high-speed ships large enough to embark a small number of manned tactical
aircraft each. A February 2005 report on potential Navy force architecture by DOD’s
Office of Force Transformation (OFT) proposed a medium-sized (57,000-ton) carrier
based on a commercial-like ship hull design, and also a small (13,500-ton), high-speed
catamaran carrier.7 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.
For more on the DD(X) and LHA(R) programs, see CRS Report RS21059, Navy DD(X)
Destroyer Program: Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke, CRS Report
RL32109, Navy DD(X) and LCS Ship Acquisition Programs: Oversight Issues and Options for
Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke, and CRS Report RL32513, Navy-Marine Corps Amphibious and
Maritime Prepositioning Ship Programs: Background and Oversight Issues for Congress, by
For more discussion, see CRS Report RL32776, op. cit.
For more on the OFT report, including these two proposed carriers, see CRS Report RL32814,
Navy Force Architecture and Ship Acquisition: Selected FY2006 Issues for Congress, by Ronald
Potential Reduction in Carrier Force. A third potential issue for Congress
concerns the Navy’s proposal to retire the Kennedy in FY2006 and thereby reduce the
carrier force to 11 ships, and the possibility that the Navy might eventually reduce the
carrier force further, to 10 or 9 ships. Such a reduction might not affect plans for
procuring CVN-21, but it could affect plans for procuring CVN-79 and subsequent
carriers. The Navy believes that reducing the carrier force to 11 ships, or possibly fewer,
is acceptable in light of the increasing capabilities of Navy carrier air wings and steps that
have been taken to increase the ability of carriers to deploy rapidly in response to crises
and conflicts. Other observers argue that there are good reasons to maintain a force of at
least 12 carriers.8
Legislative Activity in FY20059
H.R. 1815/S. 1042 (FY2006 Defense Authorization Bill). Section 129 of the
FY2006 defense authorization bill (H.R. 1815 ) as reported by the House Armed Services
Committee (H.Rept. 109-89 of May 20, 2005) would increase the FY2006 advance
procurement funding request for CVN-21 by $86.7 million if DOD certifies to Congress
that this amount would permit construction of CVN-21 to begin in FY2007 rather than
FY2008. The report noted the cost of CVN-21 as part of a critical discussion of the
increasing costs of Navy shipbuilding programs. (Page 63).
Section 122 of the FY2006 defense authorization bill (S. 1042) as reported by the
Senate Armed Services Committee (S.Rept. 109-69 of May 17, 2005) would permit
CVN-21 to be procured with split funding (i.e., incremental funding) during the period
FY2007-FY2010.10 The report expressed concern about the Navy’s plan to defer
procurement of CVN-21 from FY2007 to FY2008 because of the effect this would have
on increasing the cost of CVN-21 and increasing the gap in time between the retirement
of the Enterprise and its replacement by CVN-21. The report recommended increasing
the FY2006 advance procurement funding request for the ship by $86.7 million so as to
support the acceleration of procurement of CVN-21 to FY2007. (Pages 66-67; see also
For more discussion, see CRS Report RL32731, op cit.
For legislative activity relating to the issue of the size of the carrier force, see CRS Report
RL32731, op cit.
For additional discussion of incremental funding in the procurement of Navy ships, see CRS
Report RL32914, Navy Ship Acquisition: Options for Lower-Cost Ship Design — Issues for
Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke, and CRS Report RL31404, op cit.