Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress




Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier
Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Updated July 29, 2021
Congressional Research Service
https://crsreports.congress.gov
RS20643




Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Summary
The aircraft carriers CVN-78, CVN-79, CVN-80, and CVN-81 are the first four ships in the
Navy’s new Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVNs). The
Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget requests $2,659.5 million (i.e., about $2.7 billion) in
procurement funding for CVN-78 class ships, including $291.0 million for CVN-79, $1,068.7
million for CVN-80, and $1,299.8 million for CVN-81.
CVN-78 (Gerald R. Ford) was procured in FY2008. The Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget
estimates the ship’s procurement cost at $13,316.5 million (i.e., about $13.3 billion) in then-year
dollars. The ship was commissioned into service on July 22, 2017. The Navy is currently working
to complete construction, testing, and certification of the ship’s 11 weapons elevators.
CVN-79 (John F. Kennedy) was procured in FY2013. The Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget
estimates the ship’s procurement cost at $11,929.7 million (i.e., about $11.9 billion) in then-year
dollars. The ship is being built with an improved shipyard fabrication and assembly process that
incorporates lessons learned from the construction of CVN-78. CVN-79 is scheduled for delivery
to the Navy in June 2024.
CVN-80 (Enterprise) was procured in FY2018. The Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget estimates
the ship’s procurement cost at $12,405.5 million (i.e., about $12.4 billion) in then-year dollars.
The ship is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in March 2028.
CVN-81 (Doris Miller) is treated in this report as a ship that was procured in FY2019, consistent
with congressional action on the Navy’s FY2019 budget. The Navy’s FY2022 budget
submission, like its FY2021 submission, shows CVN-81 as a ship that was procured in FY2020.
The Navy’s FY2022 budget submission estimates the ship’s procurement cost at $12,483.6
million (i.e., about $12.5 billion) in then-year dollars. The ship is scheduled for delivery to the
Navy in February 2032.
CVN-80 and CVN-81 are being procured under a two-ship block buy contract that was authorized
by Section 121(a)(2) of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year
2019 (H.R. 5515/P.L. 115-232 of August 13, 2018). The use of the two-ship block buy contract
reduced the combined estimated procurement cost of the two ships. Oversight issues for Congress
for the CVN-78 program include the following:
 the future aircraft carrier force level;
 the procurement of aircraft carriers after CVN-81;
 a delay in CVN-78’s first deployment due to the need to complete work on the
ship’s weapons elevators and correct other technical problems aboard the ship;
 the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the execution of U.S.
military shipbuilding programs, including the CVN-78 program;
 cost growth in the CVN-78 program, Navy efforts to stem that growth, and Navy
efforts to manage costs so as to stay within the program’s cost caps; and
 additional CVN-78 program issues that were raised in a January 2021 report from
the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) Director of Operational Test and
Evaluation (DOT&E) and a June 2020 Government Accountability Office (GAO)
report on DOD weapon systems.
Congressional Research Service

link to page 5 link to page 5 link to page 5 link to page 5 link to page 5 link to page 6 link to page 6 link to page 6 link to page 6 link to page 7 link to page 7 link to page 7 link to page 7 link to page 7 link to page 8 link to page 8 link to page 8 link to page 8 link to page 10 link to page 11 link to page 11 link to page 11 link to page 11 link to page 12 link to page 12 link to page 13 link to page 15 link to page 15 link to page 15 link to page 17 link to page 17 link to page 17 link to page 19 link to page 20 link to page 20 link to page 23 link to page 23 link to page 24 link to page 24 link to page 24 link to page 25 link to page 28 link to page 28 link to page 32 link to page 33 link to page 33 Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Contents
Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 1
Background ..................................................................................................................................... 1

Current Navy Aircraft Carrier Force ......................................................................................... 1
Statutory Requirements for Numbers of Carriers and Carrier Air Wings ................................. 1

Requirement to Maintain Not Less Than 11 Carriers ......................................................... 1
Prohibition on Retiring Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carriers Prior to Refueling .................. 2
Requirement to Maintain a Minimum of Nine Carrier Air Wings ...................................... 2

Navy Force-Level Goal ............................................................................................................. 2
Current 12-Carrier Force-Level Goal within 355-Ship Plan of December 2016 ................ 2
December 9, 2020, Document Presented Potential New Goal of 8 to 11 Large
Carriers and 0 to 6 Light Carriers .................................................................................... 3
June 17, 2021, Document Presents Potential New Goal of 9 to 11 Aircraft
Carriers ............................................................................................................................ 3
Comparison of Aircraft Carrier Force-Level Goals ............................................................ 3
Incremental Funding Authority for Aircraft Carriers ................................................................ 4
Aircraft Carrier Construction Industrial Base ........................................................................... 4
Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) Class Program ................................................................................ 4

Overview ............................................................................................................................. 4
CVN-78 (Gerald R. Ford) ................................................................................................... 6
CVN-79 (John F. Kennedy) ................................................................................................ 7
CVN-80 (Enterprise) ........................................................................................................... 7
CVN-81 (Doris Miller) ....................................................................................................... 7
Two-Ship Block Buy Contract for CVN-80 and CVN-81 .................................................. 7
Program Procurement Cost Cap .......................................................................................... 8
Program Procurement Funding ........................................................................................... 8
Changes in Estimated Unit Procurement Costs Since FY2008 Budget .............................. 9
Issues for Congress for FY2022 ..................................................................................................... 11
Future Aircraft Carrier Force Level ......................................................................................... 11
Procurement of Aircraft Carriers After CVN-81 ...................................................................... 11
Delay in CVN-78’s Deployment Due to Weapon Elevators and Other Challenges................ 13
Overview ........................................................................................................................... 13
Weapons Elevators ............................................................................................................ 13
Other Technical Challenges .............................................................................................. 15
Change in Program Manager ............................................................................................ 16
Navy Efforts to Address Technical Challenges ................................................................. 16
Potential Oversight Questions ........................................................................................... 19
Potential Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic .............................................................................. 19
Cost Growth and Managing Costs within Program Cost Caps ............................................... 20
Overview ........................................................................................................................... 20
CVN-78 ............................................................................................................................. 20
CVNs 79, 80, and 81 ......................................................................................................... 21
Issues Raised in DOT&E and GAO Reports .......................................................................... 24
January 2021 DOT&E Report .......................................................................................... 24
June 2021 GAO Report ..................................................................................................... 28
Legislative Activity for FY2022 .................................................................................................... 29
Summary of Congressional Action on FY2022 Funding Request .......................................... 29
Congressional Research Service

link to page 34 link to page 34 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 10 link to page 7 link to page 13 link to page 14 link to page 34 link to page 35 link to page 39 Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

FY2022 DOD Appropriations Act (H.R. 4432) ...................................................................... 30
House ................................................................................................................................ 30

Figures
Figure 1. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) ....................................................................................... 5
Figure 2. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) ....................................................................................... 5
Figure 3. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) ....................................................................................... 6

Tables
Table 1. Current and Potential Aircraft Carrier Force-Level Goals ................................................. 3
Table 2. Procurement Funding for CVNs 78, 79, 80, and 81 Through FY2028 ............................. 9
Table 3. Changes in Estimated Procurement Costs of CVNs 78, 79, 80, and 81 .......................... 10
Table 4. Congressional Action on FY2022 Procurement Funding Request .................................. 30

Appendixes
Appendix. Background Information on Two-Ship Block Buy for CVN-80 and CVN-81 ............ 31

Contacts
Author Information ........................................................................................................................ 35

Congressional Research Service

link to page 5 Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Introduction
This report provides background information and potential oversight issues for Congress on the
Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (CVN) aircraft carrier program.
The Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget requests $2,659.5 million (i.e., about $2.7 billion) in
procurement funding for the program. Congress’s decisions on the CVN-78 program could
substantially affect Navy capabilities and funding requirements and the shipbuilding industrial
base.
Background
Current Navy Aircraft Carrier Force
The Navy’s current aircraft carrier force consists of 11 CVNs,1 including 10 Nimitz-class ships
(CVNs 68 through 77) that entered service between 1975 and 2009, and one Gerald R. Ford
(CVN-78) class ship that was commissioned into service on July 22, 2017.2
Statutory Requirements for Numbers of Carriers and
Carrier Air Wings

Requirement to Maintain Not Less Than 11 Carriers
10 U.S.C. 8062(b) requires the Navy to maintain a force of not less than 11 operational aircraft
carriers.3 The requirement for the Navy to maintain not less than a certain number of operational
aircraft carriers was established by Section 126 of the FY2006 National Defense Authorization
Act (H.R. 1815/P.L. 109-163 of January 6, 2006), which set the number at 12 carriers. The
requirement was changed from 12 carriers to 11 carriers by Section 1011(a) of the FY2007 John
Warner National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5122/P.L. 109-364 of October 17, 2006).4

1 The Navy’s last remaining conventionally powered carrier (CV), Kitty Hawk (CV-63), was decommissioned on
January 31, 2009.
2 The commissioning into service of CVN-78 on July 22, 2017, ended a period during which the carrier force had
declined to 10 ships—a period that began on December 1, 2012, with the inactivation of the one-of-a-kind nuclear-
powered aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-65), a ship that entered service in 1961.
3 10 U.S.C. 8062 was previously numbered as 10 U.S.C. 5062. It was renumbered as 10 U.S.C. 8062 by Section 807 of
the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (H.R. 5515/P.L. 115-232 of August 13,
2018), which directed a renumbering of sections and titles of Title 10 relating to the Navy and Marine Corps. (Sections
806 and 808 of P.L. 115-232 directed a similar renumbering of sections and titles relating to the Air Force and Army,
respectively.)
4 As mentioned in footnote 2, the carrier force dropped from 11 ships to 10 ships between December 1, 2012, when
Enterprise (CVN-65) was inactivated, and July 22, 2017, when CVN-78 was commissioned into service. Anticipating
the gap between the inactivation of CVN-65 and the commissioning of CVN-78, the Navy asked Congress for a
temporary waiver of 10 U.S.C. 8062(b) to accommodate the period between the two events. Section 1023 of the
FY2010 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647/P.L. 111-84 of October 28, 2009) authorized the waiver,
permitting the Navy to have 10 operational carriers between the inactivation of CVN-65 and the commissioning of
CVN-78.
Congressional Research Service

1

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Prohibition on Retiring Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carriers Prior to Refueling
Section 1054 of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 6395/P.L. 116-
283) amended 10 U.S.C. 8062 to create a new subsection (f) stating: “ A nuclear powered aircraft
carrier may not be retired before its first refueling.’’
Requirement to Maintain a Minimum of Nine Carrier Air Wings
10 U.S.C. 8062(e), which was added by Section 1042 of the FY2017 National Defense
Authorization Act (S. 2943/P.L. 114-328 of December 23, 2016), requires the Navy to maintain a
minimum of nine carrier air wings.5
Navy Force-Level Goal
Current 12-Carrier Force-Level Goal within 355-Ship Plan of December 2016
In December 2016, the Navy released a force-level goal for achieving and maintaining a fleet of
355 ships, including 12 aircraft carriers6—one more than the minimum of 11 carriers required by
10 U.S.C. 8062(b).
Given the time needed to build a carrier and the projected retirement dates of existing carriers,
increasing the carrier force from 11 ships to 12 ships on a sustained basis would take a number of
years.7 Under the Navy’s FY2020 30-year shipbuilding plan, carrier procurement would shift
from five-year centers (i.e., one carrier procured each five years) to four-year centers after the
procurement of CVN-82 in FY2028, and a 12-carrier force would be achieved on a sustained
basis in the 2060s.8

5 10 U.S.C. 8062(e) states the following:
The Secretary of the Navy shall ensure that-
(1) the Navy maintains a minimum of 9 carrier air wings until the earlier of-
(A) the date on which additional operationally deployable aircraft carriers can fully support a 10th
carrier air wing; or
(B) October 1, 2025;
(2) after the earlier of the two dates referred to in subparagraphs (A) and (B) of paragraph (1), the
Navy maintains a minimum of 10 carrier air wings; and
(3) for each such carrier air wing, the Navy maintains a dedicated and fully staffed headquarters.
6 For more on the 355-ship force-level goal, see CRS Report RL32665, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans:
Background and Issues for Congress
, by Ronald O'Rourke.
7 Procuring carriers on three-year centers would achieve a 12-carrier force on a sustained basis by about 2030, unless
the service lives of one or more existing carriers were substantially extended. Procuring carriers on 3.5-year centers
(i.e., a combination of three- and four-year centers) would achieve a 12-carrier force on a sustained basis no earlier than
about 2034, unless the service lives of one or more existing carriers were substantially extended. Procuring carriers on
four-year centers would achieve a 12-carrier force on a sustained basis by about 2063—almost 30 years later than under
3.5-year centers—unless the service lives of one or more existing carriers were substantially extended. (Source for
2063 date in relation to four-year centers: Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in a telephone consultation with CRS
on May 18, 2017.)
8 The projected size of the carrier force in the Navy’s FY2020 30-year (FY2020-FY2049) shipbuilding plan reflected
the Navy’s now-withdrawn FY2020 budget proposal to not fund the RCOH for the aircraft carrier CVN-75 (Harry S.
Truman), and to instead retire the ship around FY2024. With the withdrawal of this budget proposal, the projected size
of the carrier force became, for the period FY2022-FY2047, one ship higher than what is shown in the Navy’s FY2020
budget submission. The newly adjusted force-level projection, reflecting the withdrawal of the proposal to retire CVN-
75 around FY2024, were as follows: The force is projected to include 11 ships in FY2020-FY2021, 12 ships in
Congressional Research Service

2

link to page 7 Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

The Navy and the Department of Defense (DOD) since 2019 have been working to develop a new
Navy force-level goal to replace the current 355-ship force-level goal.
December 9, 2020, Document Presented Potential New Goal of 8 to 11 Large
Carriers and 0 to 6 Light Carriers

On December 9, 2020, the Trump Administration released a long-range Navy shipbuilding
document that called for a Navy with a more distributed fleet architecture, including 382 to 446
manned ships and 143 to 242 large surface and underwater unmanned vehicles (UVs). Within the
total of 382 to 446 manned ships, the document called for a total of 8 to 11 CVNs and 0 to 6
smaller aircraft carriers called light aircraft carriers (CVLs). The Navy does not currently operate
CVLs.
June 17, 2021, Document Presents Potential New Goal of 9 to 11 Aircraft
Carriers

On June 17, 2021, the Biden Administration released a long-range Navy shipbuilding document
that calls for a Navy with a more distributed fleet architecture, including 321 to 372 manned ships
and 77 to 140 large surface and underwater UVs. Within the total of 321 to 372 manned ships, the
document calls for a total of 9 to 11 aircraft carriers. The document states: “New capability
concepts like a light aircraft carrier continue to be studied and analyzed to fully illuminate their
potential to execute key mission elements in a more distributed manner and to inform the best
mix of a future force.”9
Comparison of Aircraft Carrier Force-Level Goals
Table 1 compares the current aircraft carrier force-level goal within the 355-ship plan to the
potential aircraft carrier force-level goals from the June 17, 2021, and December 9, 2020, long-
range Navy shipbuilding documents.
Table 1. Current and Potential Aircraft Carrier Force-Level Goals
Current force-
December 9,
June 17, 2021,
level goal within
2020, shipbuilding
shipbuilding

355-ship plan
document
document
Aircraft carriers
12
n/a a
9 to 11
Large aircraft carriers (CVNs
12
8 to 11a
n/a
Light aircraft carriers (CVLs)
0
0 to 6 b
n/ac
Source: Table prepared by CRS based on U.S. Navy data. n/a means not available.
a. The document states: “Lower [end of the CVN] range may be enabled by acquisition of cost-effective CVL.”
b. The document states: “Further study of cost-effective CVL capabilities and capacity required.”

FY2022-FY2024, 11 ships in FY2025-FY2026, 10 ships in FY2027, 11 ships in FY2028-FY2039, 10 ships in FY2040,
11 ships in FY2041, 10 ships in FY2042-FY2044, 11 ships in FY2045, 10 ships in FY2046-FY2047, 9 ships in
FY2048, and 10 ships in FY2049.
9 U.S. Navy, Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year
2022
, June 2021, p. 4.
Congressional Research Service

3

link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 34 link to page 13 Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

c. The document states: “New capability concepts like a light aircraft carrier continue to be studied and
analyzed to ful y il uminate their potential to execute key mission elements in a more distributed manner
and to inform the best mix of a future force.”
Incremental Funding Authority for Aircraft Carriers
In recent years, Congress has authorized DOD to use incremental funding for procuring certain
Navy ships, most notably aircraft carriers.10 Under incremental funding, some of the funding
needed to fully fund a ship is provided in one or more years after the year in which the ship is
procured.11
Aircraft Carrier Construction Industrial Base
All U.S. aircraft carriers procured since FY1958 have been built by Huntington Ingalls
Industries/Newport News Shipbuilding (HII/NNS), of Newport News, VA. HII/NNS is the only
U.S. shipyard that can build large-deck, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The aircraft carrier
construction industrial base also includes roughly 2,000 supplier firms in 46 states.12
Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) Class Program
Overview
The Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) class carrier design (Figure 1, Figure 2, and Table 4) is the
successor to the Nimitz-class carrier design. The Ford-class design uses the basic Nimitz-class hull
form but incorporates several improvements, including features permitting the ship to generate
more aircraft sorties per day, more electrical power for supporting ship systems, and features
permitting the ship to be operated by several hundred fewer sailors than a Nimitz-class ship,
reducing 50-year life-cycle operating and support (O&S) costs for each ship by about $4 billion

10 The provisions providing authority for using incremental funding for procuring CVN-78 class carriers are as follows:
Section 121 of the FY2007 John Warner National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5122/P.L. 109-364 of October 17,
2006) granted the Navy the authority to use four-year incremental funding for CVNs 78, 79, and 80. Under this
authority, the Navy could fully fund each of these ships over a four-year period that includes the ship’s year of
procurement and three subsequent years.
Section 124 of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1540/P.L. 112-81 of December 31, 2011)
amended Section 121 of P.L. 109-364 to grant the Navy the authority to use five-year incremental funding for CVNs
78, 79, and 80. Since CVN-78 was fully funded in FY2008-FY2011, the provision in practice originally applied to
CVNs 79 and 80, although as discussed in the footnote to Table 2, the Navy made use of the authority in connection
with an FY2020 reprogramming action that reprogrammed $86.0 million of funding into FY2012 for CVN-78.
Section 121 of the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310/P.L. 112-239 of January 2, 2013) amended
Section 121 of P.L. 109-364 to grant the Navy the authority to use six-year incremental funding for CVNs 78, 79, and
80. Since CVN-78 was fully funded in FY2008-FY2011, the provision in practice applies to CVNs 79 and 80.
Section 121(c) of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (H.R. 5515/P.L. 115-
232 of August 13, 2018) authorized incremental funding to be used for making payments under the two-ship block buy
contract for the construction of CVN-80 and CVN-81. This provision does not limit the total number of years across
which incremental funding may be used to procure either ship.
11 For more on full funding and incremental funding, see CRS Report RL31404, Defense Procurement: Full Funding
Policy—Background, Issues, and Options for Congress
, by Ronald O'Rourke and Stephen Daggett, and CRS Report
RL32776, Navy Ship Procurement: Alternative Funding Approaches—Background and Options for Congress, by
Ronald O'Rourke.
12 Source for figures of 2,000 supplier firms in 46 states: Jennifer Boykin, president of HII/NNS, as quoted in Marcus
Weisgerber, “US Navy Places First 2-Carrier Order in Three Decades,” Defense One, January 31, 2019.
Congressional Research Service

4



Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

compared to the Nimitz-class design, the Navy estimates. Navy plans call for procuring at least
four Ford-class carriers—CVN-78, CVN-79, CVN-80, and CVN-81.
Figure 1. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)

Source: Cropped version of U.S. Navy photograph 170408-N-WZ792-198, showing CVN-78 on April 8, 2017.
Accessed March 17, 2021, at https://www.navy.mil/Resources/Photo-Gallery/igphoto/2001728935/.
Figure 2. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)

Source: U.S. Navy photograph 200515-N-QI093-1151, showing CVN-78 on May 15, 2020, with the oiler USNS
Patuxent
(T-AO 201) alongside. Accessed March 17, 2021, at https://allhands.navy.mil/Media/Gallery/igphoto/
2002340124/.
Congressional Research Service

5


Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Figure 3. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)

Source: Cropped version of photograph accompanying Megan Eckstein, “Navy Removes Ford Carrier Program
Manager, Citing Performance Over Time,” USNI News, July 2, 2020. The caption credits the photograph to the
U.S. Navy and states that it shows CVN-78 on June 4, 2020.
CVN-78 (Gerald R. Ford)
CVN-78, which was named Gerald R. Ford in 2007,13 was procured in FY2008. The Navy’s
proposed FY2022 budget estimates the ship’s procurement cost at $13,316.5 million (i.e., about
$13.3 billion) in then-year dollars. The ship was commissioned into service on July 22, 2017. The
Navy is currently working to complete construction, testing, and certification of the ship’s 11
weapons elevators.

13 §1012 of the FY2007 defense authorization act (H.R. 5122/P.L. 109-364 of October 17, 2006) expressed the sense of
Congress that CVN-78 should be named for President Gerald R. Ford. On January 16, 2007, the Navy announced that
CVN-78 would be so named. CVN-78 and other carriers built to the same design are consequently referred to as Ford
(CVN-78) class carriers. For more on Navy ship names, see CRS Report RS22478, Navy Ship Names: Background for
Congress
, by Ronald O'Rourke.
Congressional Research Service

6

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

CVN-79 (John F. Kennedy)
CVN-79, which was named John F. Kennedy on May 29, 2011,14 was procured in FY2013. The
Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget estimates the ship’s procurement cost at $11,929.7 million (i.e.,
about $11.9 billion) in then-year dollars. The ship is being built with an improved shipyard
fabrication and assembly process that incorporates lessons learned from the construction of CVN-
78. CVN-79 is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in June 2024.
CVN-80 (Enterprise)
CVN-80, which was named Enterprise on December 1, 2012,15 was procured in FY2018. The
Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget estimates the ship’s procurement cost at $12,405.5 million (i.e.,
about $12.4 billion) in then-year dollars. The ship is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in March
2028.
CVN-81 (Doris Miller)
CVN-81, which was named Doris Miller on January 20, 2020,16 is treated in this report as a ship
that was procured in FY2019, consistent with congressional action on the Navy’s FY2019 budget.
The Navy’s FY2022 budget submission, like its FY2021 submission, shows CVN-81 as a ship
that was procured in FY2020. The Navy’s FY2022 budget submission estimates the ship’s
procurement cost at $12,483.6 million (i.e., about $12.5 billion) in then-year dollars. The ship is
scheduled for delivery to the Navy in February 2032.
Two-Ship Block Buy Contract for CVN-80 and CVN-81
CVN-80 and CVN-81 are being procured under a two-ship block buy contract that was authorized
by Section 121(a)(2) of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year
2019 (H.R. 5515/P.L. 115-232 of August 13, 2018). The provision permitted the Navy to add
CVN-81 to the existing contract for building CVN-80 after DOD made certain certifications to
Congress. DOD made the certifications on December 31, 2018, and the Navy announced the
award of the contract on January 31, 2019. Prior to the awarding of the two-ship block buy
contract, CVN-81 was scheduled to be procured in FY2023.
Compared to the estimated procurement costs for CVN-80 and CVN-81 in the Navy’s FY2019
budget submission, the Navy estimated under its FY2020 budget submission that the two-ship
block buy contract will reduce the cost of CVN-80 by $246.6 million and the cost of CVN-81 by

14 See “Navy Names Next Aircraft Carrier USS John F. Kennedy,” Navy News Service, May 29, 2011, accessed online
on June 1, 2011, at http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=60686. See also Peter Frost, “U.S. Navy’s Next
Aircraft Carrier Will Be Named After The Late John F. Kennedy,” Newport News Daily Press, May 30, 2011. CVN-79
is the second ship to be named for President John F. Kennedy. The first, CV-67, was the last conventionally powered
carrier procured for the Navy. CV-67 was procured in FY1963, entered service in 1968, and was decommissioned in
2007.
15 The Navy made the announcement of CVN-80’s name on the same day that it deactivated the 51-year-old aircraft
carrier CVN-65, also named Enterprise. (“Enterprise, Navy’s First Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier, Inactivated,”
Navy News Service, December 1, 2012; Hugh Lessig, “Navy Retires One Enterprise, Will Welcome Another,” Newport
News Daily Press
, December 2, 2012.) CVN-65 was the eighth Navy ship named Enterprise; CVN-80 is to be the
ninth.
16 Doris Miller was an African American enlisted sailor who received the Navy Cross for his actions during the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. For further discussion of the naming of CVN-81 for Doris
Miller, see CRS Report RS22478, Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress, by Ronald O'Rourke.
Congressional Research Service

7

link to page 35 link to page 13 Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

$2,637.3 million, for a combined reduction of $2,883.9 million (i.e., about $2.9 billion).17 (DOD
characterized the combined reduction as “nearly $3 billion.”18) Using higher estimated baseline
costs for CVN-80 and CVN-81 taken from a December 2017 Navy business case analysis, the
Navy estimated under its FY2020 budget submission that the two-ship contract will reduce the
cost of CVN-80 by about $900 million and the cost of CVN-81 by about $3.1 billion, for a
combined reduction of about $4.0 billion.19 These figures are all expressed in then-year dollars,
meaning dollars that are not adjusted for inflation. For additional background information on the
two-ship block buy contract, see the Appendix.
Program Procurement Cost Cap
Congress has established and subsequently amended procurement cost caps for CVN-78 class
aircraft carriers.20
Program Procurement Funding
Table 2 shows procurement funding for CVNs 78, 79, 80, and 81 through FY2028, the final year
of funding programmed for CVN-81, under the Navy’s FY2022 budget submission. As shown in
the table, the Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget requests $2,659.5 million (i.e., about $2.7 billion)
in procurement funding for CVN-78 class ships, including $291.0 million for CVN-79, $1,068.7
million for CVN-80, and $1,299.8 million for CVN-81.

17 Source: CRS calculation based on costs for single-ship purchases as presented in Navy’s FY2019 budget submission
and costs for two-ship purchase as presented in the Navy’s FY2020 budget submission.
18 Source: Navy information paper on estimated cost savings of two-ship carrier buy provided to CRS by Navy Office
of Legislative Affairs on June 20, 2019.
19 Navy information paper provided to CRS by Navy Office of legislative Affairs on June 20, 2019.
20 The provisions that established and later amended the cost caps are as follows:
Section 122 of the FY2007 John Warner National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5122/P.L. 109-364 of October 17,
2006) established a procurement cost cap for CVN-78 of $10.5 billion, plus adjustments for inflation and other factors,
and a procurement cost cap for subsequent Ford-class carriers of $8.1 billion each, plus adjustments for inflation and
other factors. The conference report (H.Rept. 109-702 of September 29, 2006) on P.L. 109-364 discusses Section 122
on pages 551-552.
Section 121 of the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 3304/P.L. 113-66 of December 26, 2013)
amended the procurement cost cap for the CVN-78 program to provide a revised cap of $12,887.0 million for CVN-78
and a revised cap of $11,498.0 million for each follow-on ship in the program, plus adjustments for inflation and other
factors (including an additional factor not included in original cost cap).
Section 122 of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1356/P.L. 114-92 of November 25, 2015) further
amended the cost cap for the CVN-78 program to provide a revised cap of $11,398.0 million for each follow-on ship in
the program, plus adjustment for inflation and other factors, and with a new provision stating that, if during
construction of CVN-79, the Chief of Naval Operations determines that measures required to complete the ship within
the revised cost cap shall result in an unacceptable reduction to the ship’s operational capability, the Secretary of the
Navy may increase the CVN-79 cost cap by up to $100 million (i.e., to $11.498 billion). If such an action is taken, the
Navy is to adhere to the notification requirements specified in the cost cap legislation.
Section 121(a) of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2810/P.L. 115-91 of December 12, 2017)
further amended the cost cap for the CVN-78 program to provide a revised cap of $12,568.0 million for CVN-80 and
subsequent ships in the program, plus adjustment for inflation and other factors. (The cap for CVN-79 was kept at
$11,398.0 million, plus adjustment for inflation and other factors.) The provision also amended the basis for adjusting
the caps for inflation, and excluded certain costs from being counted against the caps.
Section 121 of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1790/P.L. 116-92 of December 20, 2019) further
amended the cost cap for the CVN-78 program to provide revised caps of $13,224.0 million for CVN-78, $11,398.0
million for CVN–79, $12,202.0 million for CVN–80, and $12,451.0 million for CVN–81. The provision directs the
Navy to exclude from these figures costs for CVN–78 class battle spares, interim spares, and increases attributable to
economic inflation after December 1, 2018.
Congressional Research Service

8

link to page 8 link to page 14 Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Table 2. Procurement Funding for CVNs 78, 79, 80, and 81 Through FY2028
(Millions of then-year dollars, rounded to nearest tenth)
FY
CVN-78
CVN-79
CVN-80
CVN-81
Total
FY01
21.7 (AP)
0
0
0
21.7
FY02
135.3 (AP)
0
0
0
135.3
FY03
395.5 (AP)
0
0
0
395.5
FY04
1,162.9 (AP)
0
0
0
1,162.9
FY05
623.1 (AP)
0
0
0
623.1
FY06
618.9 (AP)
0
0
0
618.9
FY07
735.8 (AP)
52.8 (AP)
0
0
788.6
FY08
2,685.0 (FF)
123.5 (AP)
0
0
2,808.5
FY09
2,687.0 (FF)
1,210.6 (AP)
0
0
3,897.6
FY10
851.3 (FF)
482.9 (AP)
0
0
1,334.2
FY11
1,848.1 (FF)
902.5 (AP)
0
0
2,750.6
FY12
86.0 (FF)*
554.8 (AP)
0
0
640.8
FY13
0
491.0 (FF)
0
0
491.0
FY14
588.1 (CC)
917.6 (FF)
0
0
1,505.7
FY15
663.0 (CC)
1,219.4 (FF)
0
0
1,882.4
FY16
123.8 (CC)
1,569.5 (FF)
862.4 (AP)
0
2,555.7
FY17
0
1,241.8 (FF)
1,370.8 (AP)
0
2,612.6
FY18
20.0 (CC)
2,556.4 (FF)
1,569.6 (FF)
0
4,146.0
FY19
0
0
929.1 (FF)
643.0 (FF)
1,572.1
FY20
0
0
1,062.0 (FF)
1,214.5 (FF)
2,276.5
FY21
71.0 (CC)
0
958.9 (FF)
1,606.4 (FF)
2,636.3
FY22 (requested)
0
291.0 (CC)
1,068.7 (FF)
1,299.8 (FF)
2,659.5
FY23 (programmed)
0
172.9 (CC)
1,188.6 (FF)
731.4 (FF)
2,092.9
FY24 (programmed)
0
143.1 (CC)
1,053.5 (FF)
637.5 (FF)
1,834.1
FY25 (programmed)
0
0
2,341.9 (FF)
566.4 (FF)
2,908.3
FY26 (projected)
0
0
0
2,087.2 (FF)
2,087.2
FY27 (projected)
0
0
0
2,026.8 (FF)
2,026.8
FY28 (projected)
0
0
0
1,670.7 (FF)
1,670.7
Total
13,316.5
11,929.7
12,405.5
12,483.6
50,135.3
Source: Table prepared by CRS based on Navy’s FY2022 budget submission.
Notes: Figures may not add due to rounding. “AP” is advance procurement funding; “FF” is ful funding; “CC” is
cost-to-complete funding (i.e., funding to cover cost growth), which is sometimes abbreviated in Navy
documents as CTC. Regarding the * notation for the FY2012 funding figure for CVN-78, even though FY2012 is
after FY2011 (CVN-78’s original final year of ful funding), the Navy characterizes the $86.0 mil ion
reprogrammed into FY2012 as ful funding rather than cost-to-complete funding on the grounds that in the years
since FY2011, as discussed earlier in this report (see footnote 10), the authority to use incremental funding for
procuring aircraft carriers has been expanded by Congress to permit more than the four years of incremental
funding that were permitted at the time that CVN-78 was initially funded.
Changes in Estimated Unit Procurement Costs Since FY2008 Budget
Table 3 shows changes in the estimated procurement costs of CVNs 78, 79, 80, and 81 since the
budget submission for FY2008—the year of procurement for CVN-78.
Congressional Research Service

9

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Table 3. Changes in Estimated Procurement Costs of CVNs 78, 79, 80, and 81
(As shown in FY2008-FY2020 budgets, in millions of then-year dollars)
Budget
CVN-78
CVN-79
CVN-80
CVN-81
Est.
Est.
Est.
Schedule
Est.
proc.
Scheduled
proc.
Scheduled
proc.
d FY of
proc.
Scheduled

cost
FY of proc.
cost
FY of proc.
cost
proc.
cost
FY of proc.
FY08
10,488.9
FY08
9,192.0
FY12
10,716.8
FY16
n/a
FY21
FY09
10,457.9
FY08
9,191.6
FY12
10,716.8
FY16
n/a
FY21
FY10
10,845.8
FY08
n/a
FY13
n/a
FY18
n/a
FY23
FY11
11,531.0
FY08
10,413.1
FY13
13,577.0
FY18
n/a
FY23
FY12
11,531.0
FY08
10,253.0
FY13
13,494.9
FY18
n/a
FY23
FY13
12,323.2
FY08
11,411.0
FY13
13,874.2
FY18
n/a
FY23
FY14
12,829.3
FY08
11,338.4
FY13
13,874.2
FY18
n/a
FY23
FY15
12,887.2
FY08
11,498.0
FY13
13,874.2
FY18
n/a
FY23
FY16
12,887.0
FY08
11,347.6
FY13
13,472.0
FY18
n/a
FY23
FY17
12,887.0
FY08
11,398.0
FY13
12,900.0
FY18
n/a
FY23
FY18
12,907.0
FY08
11,377.4
FY13
12,997.6
FY18
n/a
FY23
FY19
12,964.0
FY08
11,341.4
FY13
12,601.7
FY18
15,088.0
FY23
FY20
13,084.0
FY08
11,327.4
FY13
12,335.1
FY18
12,450.7
FY19
FY21
13,316.5
FY08
11,397.7
FY13
12,321.3
FY18
12,450.7
FY19
FY22
13,316.5
FY08
11,929.7
FY13
12,405.5
FY18
12,483.6
FY19
Annual % change
FY08 to FY09
-0.3

0%

0%

n/a

FY09 to FY10
+3.7

n/a

n/a

n/a

FY10 to FY11
+6.3

n/a

n/a

n/a

FY09 to FY11




+26.7%



FY11 to FY12
0%

-1.5%

-0.1%

n/a

FY12 to FY13
+6.9%

+11.3%

+2.8%

n/a

FY13 to FY14
+4.1%

-0.6%

0%

n/a

FY14 to FY15
+0.5%

+1.4%

0%

n/a

FY15 to FY16
0%

-1.3%

-2.9%

n/a

FY16 to FY17
0%

+0.4%

-4.2%

n/a

FY17 to FY18
+0.2%

-0.2%

+0.7%

n/a

FY18 to FY19
+0.4%

-0.3%

-3.0%

n/a

FY19 to FY20
+0.9%

-0.1%

-2.1%

-17.5%

FY20 to FY21
+1.8%

+0.6%

-0.1%

0%

FY21 to FY22
0%

+4.7%

+0.7%

+0.3%

Cumulative % change through FY22
Since FY08
+27.0%

+29.8%

+15.8%

n/a

Since FY13
+8.1%

+4.5%

-10.6%

n/a

Since FY18
+3.2%

+4.9%

-4.6%

n/a

Since FY19
+2.7%

+5.2%

-1.6%

-17.3%

Source: Table prepared by CRS based on FY2008-FY2022 Navy budget submissions. n/a means not available.
Notes: The FY2010 budget submission did not show estimated procurement costs or scheduled years of
procurement for CVNs 79 and 80. The scheduled years of procurement for CVNs 79 and 80 shown here for the
FY2010 budget submission are inferred from the shift to five-year intervals for procuring carriers that was
announced by Secretary of Defense Gates in his April 6, 2009, news conference regarding recommendations for
the FY2010 defense budget.
Congressional Research Service

10

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Issues for Congress for FY2022
Future Aircraft Carrier Force Level
One issue for Congress concerns the future aircraft carrier force level. Decisions on this issue
could have implications for the service lives of existing aircraft carriers and/or plans for procuring
new aircraft carriers. The future aircraft carrier force level has been a frequent matter of
discussion over the years, and (correctly or not) is often the starting point or the center of broader
discussions over the future size and composition of the Navy. Factors involved in discussions
about the future aircraft carrier force level include but are not limited to the following:
 the capabilities and costs (including procurement costs and life-cycle operation
and support [O&S] costs) of aircraft carriers and their embarked air wings, and
how those capabilities and costs compare to those of other U.S. military forces;
 the prospective survivability of aircraft carriers in conflicts against adversaries
(such as China) with highly capable anti-ship missiles;
 the numbers of carriers needed to support policymaker-desired levels of day-to-
day aircraft carrier forward presence in various regions around the world; and
 the utility of carriers for purposes other than high-end combat, including
deterrence of potential regional adversaries, reassurance of allies and partners,
signaling U.S. commitment and resolve, and noncombat operations such as
humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR) operations.
As discussed earlier, the December 9, 2020, long-range Navy shipbuilding document submitted
by the Trump Administration called for a future fleet with 8 to 11 CVNs and 0 to 6 light aircraft
carriers (CVLs), and the June 17, 2021, long-range Navy shipbuilding document calls for a future
fleet with 9 to 11 aircraft carriers. An aircraft carrier force-level goal that includes fewer than 11
CVNs could lead to Navy proposals for one or more of the following:
 accelerated retirements for one or more Nimitz-class carriers that have already
received their mid-life nuclear refueling overhauls (which are called Refueling
Complex Overhauls, or RCOHs);
 the cancellation of one or more planned RCOHs for Nimitz-class carriers that
have not yet received RCOHs, and the consequent early retirement of one or
more of these ships;
 a deferral or cancellation of the procurement of CVN-82, which under the Navy’s
FY2020 30-year shipbuilding plan was scheduled for FY2028; and/or
 the deferral or cancellation of the construction of CVN-81, which could require
modifying the current two-ship construction contract for CVN-80 and CVN-81.
Procurement of Aircraft Carriers After CVN-81
A related issue for Congress concerns the procurement of aircraft carriers after CVN-81. The
question of whether the Navy should shift at some point from procuring CVNs like the CVN-78
class to procuring smaller and perhaps nonnuclear-powered aircraft carriers has been a recurrent
matter of discussion and Navy study over the years, and is currently an active discussion in the
Navy.
Congressional Research Service

11

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

The Navy’s FY2020 30-year shipbuilding plan called for procuring the next carrier in FY2028
and for that carrier to be a CVN, which would make it CVN-82. The December 9, 2020, long-
range Navy shipbuilding document called for procuring the next aircraft carrier in FY2028. The
June 17, 2021, long-range Navy shipbuilding document does not include projected procurements
of aircraft carriers (or any other Navy ship type) for FY2023 or subsequent years.
As mentioned earlier, the Navy does not currently operate CVLs. As discussed in another CRS
report, however, the Navy in recent years has experimented with the concept of using an LHA-
type amphibious assault ship with an embarked group of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters as a CVL.21
A February 1, 2021, press report states
The Navy’s engineering community has already started conducting light carrier design and
engineering studies, even as the Navy and the joint force still consider whether they’d even
want to invest in a CVL to supplement supercarriers to bring more distributed capability to
the fleet for less cost.
The idea of a light carrier resurfaced last summer as a Pentagon-led Future Naval Force
Study was nearing its completion. The idea hadn’t appeared in Navy and Marine Corps
plans, but then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper had a growing interest in the topic as he
sought ways to keep future shipbuilding and sustainment costs down and as he worried
about the Navy’s ability to conduct maintenance on its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers at
Navy-run public shipyards.
The FNFS and the plan it produced, Battle Force 2045, ultimately recommended between
zero and six light carriers and noted much more study would need to be done.
That work is already happening at Naval Sea Systems Command within the engineering
and logistics directorate (SEA 05).
Rear Adm. Jason Lloyd, the SEA 05 commander and deputy commander for ship design,
integration and engineering, said last week that his Cost Engineering and Industrial
Analysis team has been studying different options to understand what operational utility
the Navy would get out of each design and for what cost compared to the Ford-class carrier,
“and then let the operators really, and the Navy, decide, hey, do we want that capability for
that cost?”
“We have looked at an America-class possibility,22 we have looked at a Ford-class-light,23
we’ve looked at various different options and done cost studies on all those options. There
are also capabilities studies on all those options,” Lloyd said last week while speaking at a
virtual event hosted by the American Society of Naval Engineers.24
Advocates of smaller carriers traditionally have argued that they are individually less expensive
to procure, that the Navy might be able to employ competition between shipyards in their
procurement (something that the Navy cannot do with large-deck, nuclear-powered carriers like
the CVN-78 class, because only one U.S. shipyard, HII/NNS, can build aircraft carriers of that
size), and that today’s aircraft carriers concentrate much of the Navy’s striking power into a

21 See CRS Report R43543, Navy LPD-17 Flight II and LHA Amphibious Ship Programs: Background and Issues for
Congress
, by Ronald O'Rourke.
22 This is a reference to a CVL whose design is based on that of the America (LHA-6) class amphibious assault ship.
23 This is a reference to a carrier whose design is similar to that of the CVN-78 design, but with some of the CVN-78
design’s features reduced or removed, resulting in a ship whose procurement cost and capability are less than that of the
CVN-78 design.
24 Megan Eckstein, “Light Carrier Studies Already Underway As Navy Considers Role for CVLs in Future Fleet,”
USNI News, February 1, 2021. See also Joseph Trevithick, “Navy Looking At America And Ford Class Derivatives In
New Light Aircraft Carrier Studies,” The Drive, February 2, 2021.
Congressional Research Service

12

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

relatively small number of expensive platforms that adversaries could focus on attacking in time
of war.
Supporters of CVNs traditionally have argued that smaller carriers, though individually less
expensive to procure, are less cost-effective in terms of dollars spent per aircraft embarked or
aircraft sorties that can be generated; that it might be possible to use competition in procuring
certain materials and components for large-deck, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers; and that
smaller carriers, though perhaps affordable in larger numbers, would be individually less
survivable in time of war than CVNs.
Section 128(d) of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1356/P.L. 114-92 of
November 25, 2015) required the Navy to submit a report on potential requirements, capabilities,
and alternatives for the future development of aircraft carriers that would replace or supplement
the CVN-78 class aircraft carrier. The report, which was conducted for the Navy by the RAND
Corporation, was delivered to the congressional defense committees in classified form in July
2016. An unclassified version of the report was then prepared and issued in 2017 as a publicly
released RAND report.25 The question of whether to shift to smaller aircraft carriers was also
addressed in three studies on future fleet architecture that were required by Section 1067 of the
FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1356/P.L. 114-92 of November 25, 2015).
Delay in CVN-78’s Deployment Due to Weapon Elevators and
Other Challenges

Overview
Another oversight issue for Congress concerns a delay in CVN-78’s first deployment due to the
need to complete the construction, testing, and certification of the ship’s weapons elevators and to
correct other technical problems aboard the ship.26 Challenges in completing the construction,
testing, and certification of CVN-78’s weapon elevators were first reported in November 2018,27
and the issue has been a matter of continuing oversight attention since then.
Weapons Elevators
The ship’s 11 weapons elevators—referred to as Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWEs)—move
missiles and bombs from the ship’s weapon magazines up to the ship’s flight deck, so that they
can be loaded onto aircraft that are getting ready to take off from the ship. A lack of working
weapons elevators can substantially limit an aircraft carrier’s ability to conduct combat
operations. The Navy has struggled since November 2018 to meet promises it has repeatedly
made to the defense oversight committees to get the elevators completed, tested, and certified.
Reported developments include the following:

25 Bradley Martin and Michael McMahon, Future Aircraft Carrier Options, Santa Monica, CA, RAND Corporation,
2017, 87 pp.
26 See, for example, Dave Ress, “Years Late and Billions More: The USS Gerald R. Ford Is a Lesson in How the Navy
Builds Ships,” Newport News Daily Press, May 23, 2021.
27 See Anthony Capaccio, “U.S. Navy’s Costliest Carrier Was Delivered Without Elevators to Lift Bombs,”
Bloomberg, November 2, 2018.
Congressional Research Service

13

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

 For much of 2019, the Navy continued to report that two of the 11 weapon
elevators were completed, tested, and certified.28
 On October 23, 2019, the Navy reported that the figure had increased to four of
11.29
 On April 22, 2020, the Navy announced that the fifth elevator had been certified,
that the sixth was scheduled to be certified in the fourth quarter of FY2020, and
that the remaining five were scheduled to be certified by the time that the ship
undergoes Full Ship Shock Trials (FSSTs) in the third quarter of FY2021.30
 On July 23, 2020, the Navy announced that the sixth elevator had been
certified.31

28 Sam LaGrone, “Carrier Ford Will Only Have Two Weapon Elevators Ready When it Leaves Shipyard,” USNI News,
October 9, 2019. See also Anthony Capaccio, “On Costliest U.S. Warship Ever, Navy Can’t Get Munitions on Deck,”
Bloomberg, July 30, 2019. (The article was also published by Bloomberg with the title “Flawed Elevators on $13
Billion Carrier Miss Another Deadline.”) Ben Werner, “Navy Says More Experts Coming to Work Ford Carrier
Elevator Delays,” USNI News, July 5, 2019; Navy Research, Development and Acquisition Public Affairs Office,
“Navy Full Court Press on USS Gerald R. Ford Weapons Elevators,” Navy News Service, July 1, 2019; Mark D. Faram,
“The Navy’s New Plan to Fix Ford’s Elevators Failures,” Navy Times, July 1, 2019; Paul McLeary, “Navy Calls In
Outsiders To Fix Troubled Ford Carrier,” Breaking Defense, July 1, 2019; Ben Werner and Sam LaGrone, “USS
Gerald R. Ford Weapons Elevator Certifications Will Extend Pat October,” USNI News, May 29, 2019. See also Paul
McLeary, “Will Trump Fire SecNav? Super Carrier USS Ford Suffers New Setback,” Breaking Defense, May 29,
2019; Rich Abott, “Ford Elevator Work Prioritized And Extending Past October,” Defense Daily, June 3, 2019; Megan
Eckstein, “Navy Building a Land-Based Test Site for Ford-Class Weapons Elevators, But Timing Won’t Help CVN-
78,” USNI News, May 31, 2019.
For earlier press reports, see Anthony Capaccio, “U.S. Navy’s Costliest Carrier Was Delivered Without Elevators to
Lift Bombs,” Bloomberg, November 2, 2018; Anthony Capaccio, “Flawed Bomb Elevators Leave Inhofe Leery of
Buying Two Carriers,” Bloomberg, December 5, 2019; Megan Eckstein, “SECNAV to Trump: Ford Carrier Weapons
Elevators Will Be Fixed by Summer, or ‘Fire Me,’” USNI News, January 8, 2019; USS Gerald R. Ford Public Affairs,
“USS Gerald R. Ford Accepts First Advanced Weapons Elevator,” Navy News Service, January 16, 2019; Christopher
Woody, “The Navy’s Newest Aircraft Carrier Got a Long-Missing Piece of Gear in December, Helping to Solve a
Problem the Navy Secretary Has Bet His Job on Fixing,” Business Insider, January 20, 2019; Richard Sisk, “Navy
Finally Has One Weapons Elevator Working on Its Newest Carrier,” Military.com, January 22, 2019; Mark D. Faram,
“Once Beleaguered by Critics, the Ford Gets a Lift,” Navy Times, January 23, 2019; USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78)
Public Affairs, “USS Gerald R. Ford Accepts Second Advanced Weapons Elevator,” Navy News Service, March 6,
2019; Mark D. Faram, “Why the Once-Maligned Flattop Ford Is Finally Getting a Lift (or 11),” Navy Times, March 7,
2019; Rich Abott, “Carrier Elevator Test Site Will Procure New Elevator, Ford Accepts Second Elevator,” Defense
Daily
, March 7, 2019; Rich Abott, “Navy To Build Land-Based Carrier Elevator Test Site,” Defense Daily, February
21, 2019.
29 Wesley Morgan, “Navy Secretary Accuses Congressional Critics of ‘Disinformation’ on Ford Carrier,” Politico Pro,
October 23, 2019. See also Sam LaGrone, “Carrier Ford May Not Deploy Until 2024, 3rd Weapons Elevator Certified,”
USNI News, October 22, 2019; Anthony Capaccio, “Trump Lets Navy’s Chief Off the Hook Over an Offer to ‘Fire
Me,’” Bloomberg, November 2, 2019.
30 Program Executive Office Aircraft Carriers Public Affairs, “Fifth Advanced Weapons Elevator certified aboard USS
Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78),” Navy News Service, April 22, 2020. See also Megan Eckstein, “Ford’s 5th Weapons
Elevator Done With Testing; All 11 Should Be Done By Next Summer’s Shock Trials,” USNI News, April 16, 2020.
On January 16, 2020, a Navy official reportedly stated that work on all 11 elevators will be completed by May 2021,
although the official acknowledged that there is some risk in that schedule. (Mallory Shelbourne, “Navy Confident
CVN-78 Will Have All Weapons Elevators by May 2021,” Inside Defense, January 16, 2020.)
31 Gina Harkins, “Supercarrier Ford Could Soon Have More Than Half of Its Weapons Elevators Working,”
Military.com, June 19, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

14

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

 In November 2020, it was reported that the seventh elevator was scheduled to be
certified before the end of calendar year 2020, and that the remaining four would
be completed by the end of April 2021.32
 On March 16, 2021, it was reported that seventh elevator had been delivered in
early March, that the eighth elevator was in testing and was scheduled to be
delivered in April, that work on all the elevators considered together was 93% or
94% complete, and that the remaining three elevators would be completed during
2021.33
 On March 23, 2021, Navy Admiral John Aquilino testified that nine of the 11
elevators had been “repaired.”34
 On May 13, 2021—about four years after the ship was delivered to the Navy—it
was reported that four of the 11 elevators would not be certified until later in
2021.35
 On July 21, 2021, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Michael
Gilday, reportedly stated: “We’ll deliver two more [of the elevators] in early fall
[2021] and then the remaining two by the end of 2021, so the elevators will be
complete. And that’s going very, very well.”36
The Navy states that lessons learned in building, testing, and certifying CVN-78’s AWEs will be
applied to the AWEs of subsequent CVN-78 class carriers.37 In November 2020, it was reported
that HII/NNS had formed a single team to fix and install the elevators on both CVN-78 and CVN-
79.38
Other Technical Challenges
In addition to challenges in building, testing, and certifying the ship’s weapon elevators, the Navy
reportedly has been working to address problems with other systems on the ship, including its
propulsion and electrical systems. Technical issues regarding the weapon elevators and other ship

32 Mallory Shelbourne, “USS Gerald R. Ford Making Steady Progress Ahead of Deployment,” USNI News, November
24, 2020.
33 Michael Fabey, “US Navy Reports Progress on Key Carrier Ford Systems,” Jane’s Navy International, March 16,
2021; Megan Eckstein, “As USS Gerald R. Ford Nears Shock Trials, Carrier Remains Busy With Testing, Fleet
Support,” USNI News, March 12, 2021. See also Kara Dixon, “USS Gerald R. Ford Moving Toward Completion of
Post-Delivery Tests and Trials, WAVY.com, March 10, 2021.
34 See Rich Abott, “Aquilino Says Nine Of 11 Ford Elevators Finished,” Defense Daily, March 23, 2021; Aidan
Quigley, “Aquilino: Ford ‘Through’ Technological Challenges, All but Two Elevators Finished,” Inside Defense,
March 23, 2021.
35 Aidan Quigley, “Ford Missed Elevator Certification Timeline Goal but Moves into Shock Trials on Time,” Inside
Defense
, May 10, 2021. See also Craig Hooper, “Despite Promises, USS Ford Heads to Shock Trials with 4 Broken
Elevators,” Forbes, May 13, 2021; Peter Suciu, “The Navy’s New, Powerful Aircraft Carrier Is Heading to ‘Shock
Trials,’” Business Insider, May 24, 2021.
36 As quoted in Rich Abott, “CNO Says Final Ford Elevators Delivered By End Of Year, Identifies Lessons Learned,”
Defense Daily, July 21, 2021.
37 See, for example, David B. Larter, “US Navy Makes Progress on Aircraft Carrier Ford’s Bedeviled Weapons
Elevators,” Defense News, July 23, 2020; Mallory Shelbourne, “Navy Verifies USS Gerald R. Ford’s Sixth Advanced
Weapons Elevator,” USNI News, July 23, 2020; Rich Abott, “Navy Certifies Second [Lower-Stage] Ford Magazine
Elevator,” Defense Daily, July 23, 2020; Gina Harkins, “Navy Carrier Ford Now Has 6 Working Weapons Elevators,”
Military.com, July 24, 2020.
38 Michael Fabey, “Newport News Shipbuilding Forms One Team for Ford-class Weapons Elevators,” Jane’s,
November 23, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

15

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

systems have delayed the ship’s first deployment to 2022 at the earliest, which would be about
five years after the ship was commissioned into service.39 The delay in the ship’s first deployment
is lengthening a period during which the Navy is attempting to maintain policymaker-desired
levels of carrier forward deployments with its 10 other carriers—a situation that can lead to
operational strains on those 10 carriers and their crews.
Change in Program Manager
A July 2, 2020, press report stated
The Navy removed its program manager for the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-
78), as Navy acquisition chief James Geurts looks to boost performance in the new carrier
program.
Capt. Ron Rutan has been moved from the program office to the Naval Sea Systems
(NAVSEA) staff, and Capt. Brian Metcalf has taken over the program office. Metcalf
previously served as the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock (LPD-17) program
manager and was working as the executive assistant to the commander of NAVSEA prior
to his reassignment to the CVN-78 program office (PMS 378).
“Readiness of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is the Navy’s top priority, and the progress
the team made during the Post Shakedown Availability (PSA) met requirements while the
subsequent eight months of CVN 78’s post-delivery test and trials (PDT&T) period has
been impressively ahead of plan. Even in the face of a global pandemic, the team has kept
a lightning pace, and we will continue to do so, for our Navy and our nation, until USS
Gerald R. Ford completes her post-delivery obligations and is fully available and ready for
tasking by the Fleet,” NAVSEA spokesman Rory O’Connor told USNI News.
Still, he said, “with 10 months left in PDT&T, followed by full-ship shock trials in [Fiscal
Year 2021], we must ensure that the team takes the opportunity to recharge and allow for
fresh eyes on upcoming challenges as required. While there is no perfect time for leadership
transitions, it is prudent to bring in renewed energy now to lead the CVN 78 team through
the challenges ahead. Capt. Metcalf’s proven program management acumen and extensive
waterfront experience will be a tremendous asset to the CVN 78 team in the months ahead.”
Metcalf took command of the program office on July 1.
O’Connor reiterated that there was no specific incident or causal factor that led to Geurts’
decision to remove Rutan from the office and bring Metcalf in, but rather it was reflective
of the program’s performance over time.40
Navy Efforts to Address Technical Challenges
A February 2, 2021, opinion column by two Navy admirals states
As the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) steamed off the coast of Virginia last week—
qualifying naval aviators from fleet replacement squadrons—The Virginian-Pilot and
Daily Press published a Jan. 28 editorial offering a dated and inaccurate assessment of the
aircraft carrier’s performance and operational accomplishments over the last several
months. Ford is in month 16 of its Post-Delivery Test and Trials (PD&T) period, testing a

39 An October 25, 2019, press report stated that Navy officials were “taking a hard look at what’s next and if there’s
enough time for Ford to meet remaining milestones and necessary to deploy sometime in 2022—which as of now is
still the target….” (Mark D. Faram, “Carrier Ford Underway For Tests as Navy Mulls Future Schedule,” Defense &
Aerospace Report
, October 25, 2019.)
40 Megan Eckstein, “Navy Removes Ford Carrier Program Manager, Citing Performance Over Time,” USNI News, July
2, 2020. See also Geoff Ziezulewicz, “Navy Fires Program Manager for Troubled Ford Aircraft Carrier,” Navy Times,
July 7, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

16

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

host of combat systems, while serving as the primary East Coast carrier qualification
platform for fleet naval aviators.
The ship has conducted nine underway periods since beginning PDT&T in November
2019, and yet the editorial cited a “new assessment,” which omitted data from the last three
underways logged in late 2020—a critical period in the development of both the ship’s
systems and the crew.
In November, for instance, Ford was at sea with her entire Carrier Strike Group (CSG) for
integrated operations. During this underway, CSG-12, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8,
Destroyer Squadron Two and elements from the group’s Air and Missile Defense and
Information Warfare teams conducted operations consistent with a CSG’s pre-deployment
training cycles. As previously reported in the newspaper, Ford was “averaging some 50
sorties a day,” with a partial air wing of roughly 35 aircraft flying, approximately 50% of
a fully outfitted air wing using Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and
Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) with great success.
Ford has successfully launched and recovered aircraft nearly 6,500 times, and in December,
the crew completed more than 840 launches and arrestments while qualifying 58 new
aviators. The ship also recorded a new single-day record of 170 launches and 175
arrestments in an eight-and-a-half-hour period, eclipsing Ford’s previous record set in
April. In 2020, FORD completed 5,700 aircraft launches and recoveries across six at-sea
periods, which was a sevenfold increase from the ship’s totals in 2018.
The editorial also overlooked Ford’s progress in testing the ship’s command and control
systems during strike group readiness exercises, which play a crucial role in preparing
Ford’s crew and systems for operational employment well ahead of the timeline stated in
the editorial. These integrated strike group operations were conducted in parallel with
planned ship testing and trials, accelerating the Navy’s ability to exercise the ship’s
command and control capability prior to full ship shock trials scheduled for this summer
and the follow-on planned incremental availability.
As the hard-working shipbuilders of Newport News Shipbuilding and countless citizens of
this region have likely seen in local news reports, Ford and her exceptional crew have been
marking significant planned milestones since completing the aircraft carrier’s Post-
Shakedown Availability in October 2019. These milestones include certifying the flight
deck, completing aircraft compatibility testing, embarking the strike group and airwing,
qualifying more than 400 naval aviators, and conducting combat systems certification
preparations during approximately 200 days underway.
Ford is providing significant operational readiness to the fleet commanders, even while in
a test and trial status. In each of Ford’s at-sea periods, the ship’s crew and embarked
squadrons continue to validate and to refine Ford’s technological innovations—
technologies never realized before on any combatant of its kind….
While the editors are right that it is not unusual for the first ship of a class to have
unexpected challenges and delays, Ford is vigorously testing its new technology and
aggressively resolving issues. Ford-class aircraft carriers will serve as the centerpiece of
strike group operations through the 21st century, supporting national strategic objectives.41
An April 27, 2021, press report stated:
The efforts of USS Gerald R. Ford sailors during the carrier’s 18 months of post-delivery
tests and trials look set to cut the time before the Navy’s newest carrier is ready to deploy—
possibly by a year or more.

41 John Meier and Craig Clapperton, “Opinion: Cutting-Edge USS Ford Cruising Toward Certification,” Virginian-
Pilot
, February 2, 2021.
Congressional Research Service

17

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Rear Adm. Craig Clapperton, commander of the Ford’s carrier strike group, said the
group’s latest exercises show the Ford would be ready to deploy 12 to 18 months earlier
that its current—a schedule that was in its turn roughly two years later than the Navy had
hoped when it started working on the carrier nearly two decades ago.
After a set of live-fire exercises over the past several weeks at sea, the Ford has certified
the missiles and cannons that are its last line of a defense.
The Ford and the ships and air wing in its strike group also completed a long distance
maritime strike exercise, a critical war-gaming test in which it had to escape from another
task force seeking to disable it and then attack in its turn.
“We have accelerated the timeline for Gerald R. Ford,” Clapperton said….
During the Ford’s latest at-sea exercise, its 18th since starting post delivery tests and trials,
its electromagnetic catapult, for launching planes, and arresting gear, for keeping them
from plunging into the sea when landing, hit the 8,000 launch-and-recovery cycle mark,
said Capt. Joshua Sager, air wing commander.
That’s a key measure, since that is roughly the number of sorties an air-wing will fly during
the several months of a deployment overseas.
Sager said the new electromagnetic technology means the air-wing can get into the air—
and return to the battle after rearming and refueling—faster than with the traditional steam-
and-hydraulics systems that have been the mainstay for decades.
“Now we’ve gone past the point of showing the Ford can do what Nimitz class can do….
Now we’re at the point of taking it to the next level,” he said, referring the class of 10
nuclear carriers now in service.42
An April 28, 2021, press report stated:
The Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) and Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System
(EMALS) achieved 8,000 aircraft recoveries and launches aboard USS Gerald R. Ford
(CVN 78) on April 19, during the final independent steaming event of her 18-month Post
Delivery Test & Trials (PDT&T) period, the Naval Air Systems Command said in an April
26 release.
Capt. Kenneth Sterbenz, Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) program
manager (PMA-251) for EMALS and AAG, said ALRE finished PDT&T strong, and they
are ready for the next step, as Ford prepares for Full Ship Shock Trials, which is scheduled
to begin summer 2021.
“ALRE’s support of EMALS and AAG was admirable throughout the rigorous testing of
PDT&T operations,” said Sterbenz. “On the way to reaching 8,000 launches and
recoveries, we saw many Ford crew trained, learned a great deal about the systems, and
laid invaluable groundwork for future Ford-class ships.”
As CVN 78 moved through PDT&T, ALRE had the opportunity to directly support the
fleet, as 351 Naval aviators were qualified using EMALS and AAG throughout 2020 and
2021. Time and training also enabled a great increase in the efficiency of flight operations.
More than 7,000 of Ford’s total launches and recoveries were completed in the last 18
months.43

42 Dave Ress, “Ford Crew’s Efforts Set to Shorten Time Until the Carrier Is Ready to Deploy, Strike Group CO Says,”
Newport News Daily Press, April 27, 2021.
43 Seapower Staff, “EMALS, AAG Hit 8,000 Aircraft Recoveries, Launches on Ford,” Seapower, April 28, 2021. See
also Rich Abott, “Ford Finishes Combat Systems Ship Trials, Reaches 8,000 Aircraft Launches/Recoveries,” Defense
Daily
, April 26, 2021; Rich Abott, “Navy Completes Ford Carrier Post-Delivery Trials, Touts Success and Outlines
Congressional Research Service

18

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Potential Oversight Questions
Potential oversight questions for Congress include the following:
 Why did the Navy accept delivery of CVN-78 from the shipbuilder and
commission the ship into service if most or all of its weapon elevators were not
completed, tested, and certified?
 What steps has the Navy taken since CVN-78 was delivered to the Navy on May
31, 2017, to keep Congress informed of challenges regarding the ship’s weapon
elevators and other ship systems?
 Why is it taking so long to complete, test, and certify the weapon elevators?
 How much is it costing to complete, test, and certify the weapon elevators, and
will the Navy include all of this cost in the ship’s total reported procurement
cost?
 When will the ship start its first deployment, and how much of a delay will that
represent compared to the ship’s original schedule for starting its first
deployment?
 How much additional operational stress is the delay in CVN-78’s first
deployment placing on the Navy’s 10 other aircraft carriers?
 What steps is the Navy taking to ensure that a similar situation does not arise
regarding the construction and initial deployments of CVN-79, CVN-80, and
CVN-81?
Potential Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic
Another issue for Congress concerns the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the
execution of U.S. military shipbuilding programs, including the CVN-78 program. An August 13,
2020, press report stated
The Navy’s top acquisition official said the service is reassessing the timeline for the future
aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) due to both the COVID-19 pandemic and
the switch from a dual to single-phase delivery plan.
James Geurts told reporters during a phone press roundtable Wednesday [August 12] that
“obviously we are watching with some concern, the workforce levels at all our shipyards,
but in particular at Newport News there, given the relatively high number of cases in
there.”…
Geurts said the Navy is trying to understand the impacts from both COVID and moving to
a single-phase delivery for CVN-79 and then “understanding the opportunity that going to
a single phase delivery puts together and then leveraging that opportunity to build a more
efficient schedule from here on out for that ship.”44
Another August 13, 2020, press report stated
Geurts told reporters during a telephone news conference that he was particularly worried
about Newport News Shipbuilding, the Huntingtin Ingalls Industries (HII) yard in Virginia,
“given the relatively high number of cases in there”….

Next Steps,” Defense Daily, May 5, 2021; Aidan Quigley, “Ford Missed Elevator Certification Timeline Goal but
Moves into Shock Trials on Time,” Inside Defense, May 10, 2021.
44 Rich Abott, “Navy Reassessing CVN-79 Schedule Due To Pandemic And Phase Change,” Defense Daily, August 13,
2020.
Congressional Research Service

19

link to page 14 link to page 13 Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

The USN is trying to assess what the impacts of the workforce reductions will mean to the
schedule of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), the Ford-class ship recently
launched at Newport News Shipbuilding….
After the media call, Geurts told Janes, “While we still are seeing major reductions in
labour hours in CVN 79 versus CVN 78, we are also looking for opportunities to mitigate
some of the Covid impacts as we shift to a single-phase delivery plan for that ship. Single-
phase delivery will allow us to adjust some of the manpower and trade skill phasing to take
into account the Covid impacts to date. We are working on those adjustments.”45
For additional discussion of the potential impact of the pandemic on the execution of U.S.
military shipbuilding programs, see CRS Report RL32665, Navy Force Structure and
Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress
, by Ronald O'Rourke.
Cost Growth and Managing Costs within Program Cost Caps
Overview
Another issue for Congress concerns cost growth in the CVN-78 program. Navy efforts to stem
that growth and manage costs so as to stay within the program’s cost caps have been a continuing
oversight issue for Congress several years. Congress in recent years has passed legislation on the
issue that is in addition to the earlier-mentioned legislation that established and amended cost
caps for the ships.46
As shown in Table 3, the estimated procurement costs of CVN-78, CVN-79, and CVN-80 have
grown 27.0%, 29.8%, and 15.8%, respectively, since the submission of the FY2008 budget. As
shown in Table 2, cost growth on CVN-78 required the Navy to program $1,465.9 million in
cost-to-complete (CC) procurement funding for the ship in FY2014-FY2016, FY2018, and
FY2021 and to request and program $607.0 million in CC funding for CVN-79 for FY2022-
FY2024.
CVN-78
A primary source of past cost growth on CVN-78 appears to have been an unrealistically low
original cost estimate for the ship in the FY2008 budget submission, which might have reflected
an underestimate of the intrinsic challenges of building the then-new Ford-class design compared
to those of building the previous and well understood Nimitz-class design.47

45 Michael Fabey, “Covid-19: Virus Impacts Force US Navy Schedule Reassessments for Carrier Kennedy and Other
Programmes,” Jane’s Navy International, August 13, 2020.
46 This additional legislation includes the following:
Section 128 of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1356/P.L. 114-92 of November 25, 2015), which
established a limitation on availability of funds for CVN–79 until certain conditions were met;
Section 126 of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943/P.L. 114-328 of December 23, 2016), which
established a limitation on availability of funds for procurement of CVN–80 until certain conditions were met;
Section 121(b) of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2810/P.L. 115-91 of December 12, 2017),
which provided for a waiver on the limitation of availability of funds for CVN–79; and
Section 122 of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1790/P.L. 116-92 of December 20, 2020), which
modified the above-listed Section 126 of P.L. 114-328 regarding an annual report on cost targets for CVN-78 class
carriers.
47 The Congressional Budget office (CBO) in 2008 and GAO in 2007 questioned the accuracy of the Navy’s cost
estimate for CVN-78. CBO reported in June 2008 that it estimated that CVN-78 would cost $11.2 billion in constant
Congressional Research Service

20

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

In addition to this general cause of past cost growth, additional and more-specific past risks of
cost growth for CVN-78 included certain new systems to be installed on the ship. These included
a new type of aircraft catapult called the Electromagnetic Launch System (EMALS), a new
aircraft arresting system called the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), and the ship’s primary radar,
called the Dual Band Radar (DBR). Congress followed these and other sources of risk of cost
growth on CVN-78 for years.
CVNs 79, 80, and 81
Confidence Levels
The Navy states that it is working to control cost growth on CVNs 79, 80, and 81. Even so, the
Navy states that its confidence levels for its estimated procurement costs (not including costs for
class-wide spare parts) for CVNs 79, 80, and 81 were 36%, 22%, and 20% as of June 2019,
respectively, meaning that the Navy as of June 2019 estimated that the risk of future cost growth
on CVNs 79, 80, and 81 were 64%, 78%, and 80%, respectively.48
October 2019 CBO Report
An October 2019 CBO report on the potential cost of the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan states
the following regarding the CVN-78 program:
The Navy’s current estimate of the total cost of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the lead ship of
the CVN-78 class, is $13.1 billion in nominal dollars appropriated over the period from
2001 to 2018. CBO used the Navy’s inflation index for naval shipbuilding to convert that
figure to $16.2 billion in 2019 dollars, or 25 percent more than the corresponding estimate
when the ship was first authorized in 2008. Neither the Navy’s nor CBO’s estimate includes
the $5 billion in research and development costs that apply to the entire class.

FY2009 dollars, or about $900 million more than the Navy’s estimate of $10.3 billion in constant FY2009 dollars, and
that if “CVN-78 experienced cost growth similar to that of other lead ships that the Navy has purchased in the past 10
years, costs could be much higher still.” CBO also reported that, although the Navy publicly expressed confidence in its
cost estimate for CVN-78, the Navy had assigned a confidence level of less than 50% to its estimate, meaning that the
Navy believed there was more than a 50% chance that the estimate would be exceeded. (Congressional Budget Office,
Resource Implications of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2009 Shipbuilding Plan, June 9, 2008, p. 20.) GAO reported in
August 2007 that
Costs for CVN 78 will likely exceed the budget for several reasons. First, the Navy’s cost estimate,
which underpins the budget, is optimistic. For example, the Navy assumes that CVN 78 will be
built with fewer labor hours than were needed for the previous two carriers. Second, the Navy’s
target cost for ship construction may not be achievable. The shipbuilder’s initial cost estimate for
construction was 22 percent higher than the Navy’s cost target, which was based on the budget.
Although the Navy and the shipbuilder are working on ways to reduce costs, the actual costs to
build the ship will likely increase above the Navy’s target. Third, the Navy’s ability to manage
issues that affect cost suffers from insufficient cost surveillance. Without effective cost
surveillance, the Navy will not be able to identify early signs of cost growth and take necessary
corrective action.
(Government Accountability Office, Defense Acquisitions[:] Navy Faces Challenges Constructing
the Aircraft Carrier Gerald R. Ford within Budget
, GAO-07-866, August 2007, summary page. See
also Government Accountability Office, Defense Acquisitions[:] Realistic Business Cases Needed
to Execute Navy Shipbuilding Programs
, Statement of Paul L. Francis, Director, Acquisition and
Sourcing Management Team, Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary
Forces, Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, July 24, 2007 (GAO-07-943T),
p. 15.)
48 Source: Navy information paper provided to CRS by Navy Office of legislative Affairs on June 20, 2019.
Congressional Research Service

21

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Because construction of the lead ship is finished, CBO used the Navy’s estimate for that
ship to estimate the cost of successive ships in the class. But not all of the cost risk has
been eliminated; in particular, the ship’s power systems, advanced arresting gear (the
system used to recover fixed-wing aircraft landing on the ship), and weapons elevators are
not yet working properly. It is not clear how much those problems will cost to fix, but
current Navy estimates suggest that it will be several tens of millions of dollars or more.
CBO does not have enough information to independently estimate those final repair costs.
The next carrier after the CVN-78 is the CVN-79, the John F. Kennedy, which is expected
to be completed in 2024 and deployed in 2026. Funding for the ship began in 2007, the
Congress officially authorized its construction in 2013, and the planned appropriations for
it were completed in 2018. The Navy estimates that the ship will cost $11.3 billion in
nominal dollars (or $11.9 billion in 2019 dollars). The Navy’s 2014 selected acquisition
report on the CVN-79 states that “the Navy and shipbuilder have made fundamental
changes in the manner in which the CVN 79 will be built to incorporate lessons learned
from CVN 78 and eliminate the key contributors to cost performance challenges realized
in the construction of CVN 78.” Nevertheless, the Navy informed CBO that there is a
greater than 60 percent chance that the ship’s final cost will be more than the current
estimate. Although CBO expects the Navy to achieve a considerable cost reduction in the
CVN-79 compared with the CVN-78, as is typical with the second ship of a class, CBO’s
estimate is higher than the Navy’s. Specifically, CBO estimates that the ship will cost $12.4
billion in nominal dollars (or $12.9 billion in 2019 dollars), about 9 percent more than the
Navy’s estimate.
In 2018, the Congress authorized the third carrier of the class, the Enterprise (CVN-80).
Appropriations for that ship began in 2016 and are expected to be complete by 2025. In
2019, the Congress authorized the Navy to purchase materials jointly for the CVN-80 and
the next ship, the CVN-81, to save money by buying in greater quantity. It also authorized
the Navy to change the sequencing involved in building the ships to gain greater
efficiencies in their construction. Although that legislative action is known as a “two-
carrier buy,” the Navy would not be building both ships at exactly the same time.
Purchasing the two ships together would accelerate the CVN-81’s construction by only one
year compared with buying the ships individually as envisioned in the 2019 shipbuilding
plan.
In the 2020 budget, the Navy estimated that the CVN-80 would cost $12.3 billion in
nominal dollars (or $11.4 billion in 2019 dollars). That represents a savings of $300 million
compared with the Navy’s estimate in the 2019 budget. In contrast, CBO estimates that the
CVN-80 would cost $13.6 billion in nominal dollars (or $12.4 billion in 2019 dollars),
about 9 percent more than the Navy’s estimate. In information provided to CBO as part of
the 2019 budget presentation, the Navy indicated that there was a greater than 60 percent
chance that the ship’s final cost will be more than it estimated; in contrast, with the 2020
budget, the Navy puts that figure at 78 percent. Thus, it is not clear whether the service’s
2020 estimates incorporate savings stemming from a two-carrier buy or simply an
acceptance of increased risk of future cost growth.
With respect to the CVN-81, the pattern is similar. In the 2019 budget, the Navy estimated
the CVN-81 at $15.1 billion in nominal dollars. In the 2020 budget with the two-carrier
buy, the Navy estimated the cost of the ship at $12.6 billion in nominal dollars (or $10.5
billion in 2019 dollars), for a savings of $2.5 billion. However, the Navy also told CBO
that there is an 80 percent chance that the final cost will be higher than the current estimate,
compared with the roughly 40 percent chance indicated in the 2019 budget. CBO estimates
that the CVN-81 would cost $14.4 billion in nominal dollars (or $11.9 billion in 2019
dollars), or 14 percent more than the Navy’s estimate.
Congressional Research Service

22

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Overall, the Navy estimates an average cost of $12.7 billion (in 2019 dollars) for the 7
carriers (CVN-81 through CVN-87) in the 2020 shipbuilding plan. CBO’s estimate is $13.0
billion per ship….49
CVN-79
Navy officials have stated that they are working to control the cost of CVN-79 by equipping the
ship with a less expensive primary radar,50 by turning down opportunities to add features to the
ship that would have made the ship more capable than CVN-78 but would also have increased
CVN-79’s cost, and by using a build strategy for the ship that incorporates improvements over the
build strategy that was used for CVN-78. These build-strategy improvements, Navy officials have
said, include the following items, among others:
 achieving a higher percentage of outfitting of ship modules before modules are
stacked together to form the ship;
 achieving “learning inside the ship,” which means producing similar-looking ship
modules in an assembly line-like series, so as to achieve improved production
learning curve benefits in the production of these modules; and
 more economical ordering of parts and materials including greater use of batch
ordering of parts and materials, as opposed to ordering parts and materials on an
individual basis as each is needed.
An August 5, 2020, press report stated
The Navy vowed that a runaway budget wouldn’t be allowed again after the USS Gerald
Ford, the first in a new class of aircraft carriers, cost a record $13.3 billion. Now, the price
for the second ship is creeping up.
The service’s estimate for shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. to design and
construct the USS John F. Kennedy has increased to $3.58 billion, up 7% from the $3.35
billion contract awarded in 2015, according to the carrier program’s Selected Acquisition
Report for fiscal 2021.
That underscores previous warnings that the fully outfitted carrier may exceed an $11.4
billion cost cap imposed by Congress. The contractor is falling short by a key measure of
labor efficiency, the Navy said in the report obtained by Bloomberg News.
Its workforce performed 91 cents of work for every Navy dollar spent in the last year, down
from the more acceptable level of 95 cents per dollar over the same timeframe, according
to the report.
Huntington Ingalls also is falling short of a Navy goal to reduce cumulative labor hours by
at least 18% from the first ship. With the vessel 69% complete, the Kennedy is performing
at a 16% improvement over the Ford at the same point, Captain Danny Hernandez, a Navy
spokesman, said in an email.
Hernandez said the cost report’s figures stem in part from changes such as improvements
in warfare capability and lessons learned from the Ford’s recent post-delivery “shakedown”

49 Congressional Budget Office, An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2020 Shipbuilding Plan, October 2019, pp. 17-
19.
50 See, for example, Megan Eckstein, “PEO Carriers: CVN-79 Will Have a New Radar, Save $180M Compared to
[CVN-78’s] Dual Band Radar,” USNI News, March 17, 2015; Christopher P. Cavas, “Dual Band Radar Swapped Out
In New Carriers,” Defense News, March 17, 2015; Christopher P. Cavas, “New US Carrier Radar Enters the Picture,”
Defense News, March 23, 2015.
Congressional Research Service

23

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

sea trials. There are additional costs “from congressional direction” requiring that the
Kennedy be capable of deploying with F-35 jets by mid-2025, he said.
The cost increases are also “due to delays relating to electrical, sheet metal, painting and
platform engineering work,” the Navy said in the Selected Acquisition Report. The JFK is
expected to be delivered in 2024….
But the report warned that “if the current cost performance continues, then the budget will
be exhausted prior to the completion” of the carrier. That could force the Defense
Department to make the case to lawmakers for easing the cost cap.
Beci Brenton, a spokeswoman for Newport News, Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls, said
the carrier’s construction is about 72% complete. The company “continues to see the
benefits associated with significant build strategy changes and incorporation of lessons
learned” from its predecessor.
“We track cost and schedule trends continuously and share that information with our
customer,” the Navy, Brenton said.51
Issues Raised in DOT&E and GAO Reports
Another oversight issue for Congress concerns CVN-78 program issues raised in a January 2021
report from DOD’s Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E)—DOT&E’s annual
report for FY2020—and the 2020 edition of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s)
annual report surveying selected DOD weapon acquisition programs, which was published in
June 2020.
January 2021 DOT&E Report
Regarding the CVN-78 program, the January 2021 DOT&E report stated the following in part:
Assessment
• As noted in previous annual reports, the test schedule has been aggressive. The extension
in PSA [post-shakedown availability]52 delayed both phases of initial operational testing
until FY22.
• TEMP [test and evaluation master plan] Revision D outlines the Navy’s cybersecurity
strategy to test CVN 78, but has not translated the strategy into an actionable test plan.
Reliability
• Four of CVN 78’s new systems stand out as critical to flight operations: EMALS, AAG,
DBR, and AWE. Overall, the low reliability demonstrated by AAG, EMALS, and DBR,
along with the uncertain reliability of AWE, could further delay the CVN 78 IOT&E [initial
operational test and evaluation]. Reliability estimates derived from test data for EMALS,
AAG, and DBR are discussed in following subsections. For AWE, preliminary reliability
estimates have been provided on 6 of the 11 elevators, the only ones certified.
EMALS53

51 Anthony Capaccio, “Next Carrier’s Cost Creeps Up After First One Hit $13.3 Billion,” Bloomberg, August 5, 2020.
52 A post-shakedown availability is a maintenance availability (i.e., a maintenance period) that takes place after a ship’s
shakedown cruise, which an initial cruise that is intended in part to identify problems with the ship’s construction and
equipment.
53 For additional discussion regarding the reliability of EMALS, see Sam LaGrone, “USS Gerald Ford EMALS
Launching System Suffers Fault During Testing Period,” USNI News, June 8 (updated June 12), 2020; Rich Abott,
Congressional Research Service

24

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

• The delivery of the EMALS launch bulletins allows CVN 78 to launch all aircraft in the
ship’s Air Wing.
• During the 3,975 catapult launches conducted post PSA through ISE [independent
steaming event] 11, EMALS demonstrated an achieved reliability of 181 mean cycles
between operational mission failure (MCBOMF), where a cycle is the launch of one
aircraft. This reliability is well below the requirement of 4,166 MCBOMF.
• During ISE 8, two separate failures caused individual EMALS catapults to go down for
3 days. One of the failures was attributed to a legacy component.
• The reliability concerns are exacerbated by the fact that the crew cannot readily
electrically isolate EMALS components during flight operations due to the shared nature
of the Energy Storage Groups and Power Conversion Subsystem inverters on board CVN
78. The process for electrically isolating equipment is time-consuming; spinning down the
EMALS motor/generators takes 1.5 hours by itself. This inability precludes EMALS high
power maintenance during flight operations.
AAG
• Through the first 3,975 recoveries, AAG demonstrated an achieved reliability of 48
MCBOMF, where a cycle is the recovery of a single aircraft. This reliability estimate falls
well below the requirement of 16,500 MCBOMF.
• While in port prior to ISE 9, during maintenance troubleshooting, the AAG system
experienced a failure of an Energy Storage Capacitor Bank, which rendered all three
engines inoperative. It took the Navy 7 days to investigate the failure and bring AAG back
into service by mechanically isolating the failed capacitor bank. The failed parts were
repaired during a later in-port period.
• The reliability concerns are magnified by the current AAG design that does not allow
electrical isolation of the Power Conditioning Subsystem equipment from high power
buses, limiting corrective maintenance on below-deck equipment during flight operations.
Combat System
• Post-PSA sea-based developmental test events show the DBR still experiences clutter
tracks, but to a smaller extent and of a different origin than previously reported. The events
also show that CEC [cooperative engagement capability],54 in certain conditions, provides
inaccurate tracking of air contacts. During these events, SEWIP [surface electronic warfare
improvement program]55 Block 2 created undesired emitter tracks that could cause the ship
to expend more ESSMs [Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles] and RAMs [Rolling Airframe
Missiles] than necessary to destroy incoming threats.
• The Navy is satisfied with the DBR track support for Air Traffic Control (ATC) after
post-PSA at-sea testing. The DBR successfully suppresses the disclosure of the majority
of environmental tracks when it sends tracks to [the] TPX-42 [shipboad air traffic control
(ATC) system]. The Navy does not plan to conduct any further ATC-type aircraft flights
during sea-based developmental testing.

“Ford EMALS Went Down During Testing At Sea,” Defense Daily, June 8, 2020; Mallory Shelbourne, “EMALS
Aboard Ford Went Out, Interrupting Flight Operations,” Inside Defense, June 9, 2020; Gina Harkins, “Navy Carrier
Ford’s High-Tech EMALS Catapult System Breaks During Sea Trials,” Military.com, June 11, 2020; Mallory
Shelbourne, “Geurts: Navy Still Working to Diagnose Problem That Caused EMALS Failure on Ford,” Inside Defense,
June 18, 2020; Megan Eckstein, “Navy Unsure If Recent EMALS Fault Was Equipment or Procedure Problem, But
Workaround Has Been Validated,” USNI News, June 19, 2020.
54 The CEC system permits data from sensors on multiple ships to be fused together, so as to improve radar tracking
and target engagement.
55 The SEWIP system is the Navy’s new surface-ship electronic warfare system.
Congressional Research Service

25

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

• During the August 2020 missile firing operational test on SDTS [self-defense test ship],
the system demonstrated good tracking performance of the targets by MFR [multi-function
radar] and CEC, and good engagement support by the SSDS [ship self-defense system]
MK 2 Mod 6 element, which correctly provided scheduling and weapon assignments.
SEWIP Block 2 emitter reporting interfered with optimal engagements against threats.
Several problems contributed to the failure of some ESSMs and RAMs to destroy their
intended targets.
• Results of live testing completed to date indicate that CVN 78 has limited self-defense
capability against ASCM [anti-ship cruise missile] surrogates, but several challenges
persist with respect to the efficacy of the ship’s combat system.
• Post PSA through ISE 11, DBR demonstrated a mean time between operational mission
failures (MTBOMF) of 100 hours, below the requirement of 339 hours.
• Preliminary results of EASR’s [enterprise air surveillance radar]56 early developmental
testing indicate that electromagnetic interference, tracking performance, electronic
protection, and power compliance testing are focal areas for ongoing system developmental
work and improvements. Until operationally relevant reliability data are supplied to
DOT&E, system reliability remains a significant risk area for EASR. EASR’s combat
system integration remains untested.
• Planned operational tests of the CVN 78 combat system continue to be delayed or have
been canceled. In the 2006 Capstone Enterprise Air Warfare Ship Self-Defense TEMP, the
Navy planned to leverage commonality between the DDG 1000 [destroyer] and CVN 78
combat systems to reduce the number of operational test events conducted on each ship.
However, subsequent changes to the DDG 1000 combat system reduced commonality
between the two ships and negated the ability to leverage testing and resources across the
two combat systems.
• DOT&E recognizes that the CVN 78 Air Warfare test program is resource-limited
because the Enterprise Air Warfare approach was not executable due to the divergence of
the DDG 1000 and CVN 78 combat systems. DOT&E accepts this limitation expecting
that the Navy will plan and execute an adequate air warfare test program for CVN 79. The
CVN 79 test campaign is also intended to inform CVN 78 combat system performance
once it is retrofitted with planned changes.
SGR
• CVN 78 is unlikely to achieve its SGR [sortie generation rate] requirement. The target
threshold is based on unrealistic assumptions including fair weather and unlimited
visibility, and that aircraft emergencies, failures of shipboard equipment, ship maneuvers,
and manning shortfalls will not affect flight operations. During the 2013 operational
assessment, DOT&E conducted an analysis of past aircraft carrier operations in major
conflicts. The analysis concludes that the CVN 78 SGR threshold requirement is well
above historical levels.
• DOT&E plans to assess CVN 78 performance during IOT&E by comparing it to the SGR
requirement, as well as to the demonstrated performance of the Nimitz-class carriers.
• Poor reliability of key systems that support sortie generation on CVN 78 could cause a
cascading series of delays during flight operations that would affect CVN 78’s ability to
generate sorties. The poor or unknown reliability of these critical subsystems represents
the most risk to the successful completion of CVN 78 IOT&E.

56 The use of the word enterprise in this context is not a reference to the name of CVN-80; it is instead a reference to
the surface ship community, or enterprise. The use term in the radar’s name denotes that the Navy envisages installing
the radar on multiple ship classes within the community.
Congressional Research Service

26

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Manning
• Reduced manning requirements drove the design of CVN 78. The berthing capacity is
4,660, or 1,100 fewer than Nimitz-class carriers. Based on current expected manning, the
berthing capacity for officers and enlisted will be exceeded with some variability in the
estimates depending on the specific scenario examined.
Electromagnetic Compatibility
• Developmental testing identified significant electromagnetic radiation hazard and
interference problems. The Navy implemented some mitigation measures and conducted
follow-on characterization testing during ISEs, but some operational limitations and
restrictions are expected to persist into IOT&E and deployment. The Navy will need to
develop capability assessments at differing levels of system use in order for commanders
to make informed decisions on system employment.
Live Fire Test & Evaluation
• In FY20, the Navy continued with the shock qualification testing of CVN 78 components
to support the survivability evaluation of CVN 78 to underwater threat engagements. Due
to scarcity of test assets, some components and systems (e.g., DBR) will not be shock
qualified before the FSST [full-ship shock trial].
• Adequate use of M&S [modeling and simulation] in the vulnerability evaluation of the
ship against underwater threats is at risk. Challenges with the Navy Enhanced Sierra
Mechanics M&S tool prompted the Navy to switch back to the Dynamic Systems
Mechanics Advanced Simulation M&S tool to complete the vulnerability assessment
report. While necessary, the change will require additional verification and validation to
ensure the credibility of the survivability evaluation.
Recommendations
The Navy should:
1. Continue to characterize the electromagnetic environment on board CVN 78 and develop
operating procedures to maximize system effectiveness and maintain safety. As applicable,
the Navy should use the lessons learned from CVN 78 to inform design modifications for
CVN 79 and future carriers.
2. Implement the required software changes to multiple combat system elements to allow
cueing from external sources necessary to conduct one of the two remaining SDTS test
events.
3. Conduct both remaining SDTS combat system test events for CVN 78.
4. Correct the cause of combat system failures that led to ESSMs and RAMs missing their
intended targets, and demonstrate the correction in a future phase of operational testing.
5. Fund the CVN 78 lead ship combat system operational testing and the M&S suite
required to support assessment of the CVN 78 PRA [probability of raid annihilation]57
requirement.
6. Conduct an operational assessment of EASR at Wallops Island, Virginia. This testing
should evaluate EASR’s contributions to the air traffic control and self‑defense missions,
as well as provide an early assessment of electromagnetic interference and radiation hazard
concerns.

57 PRA is a measurement of the ship’s ability to defeat (i.e., annihilate) an attack (i.e., raid) consisting of multiple
enemy anti-ship missiles.
Congressional Research Service

27

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

7. Update TEMP 1610 to include cybersecurity testing on CVN 78 and CVN 79 testing
driven by the changes to the ship’s combat system, including the introduction of EASR.
8. Complete validation of the M&S tools supporting the LFT&E [live-fire test and
evaluation] assessment, including comparison of the FSST data to relevant M&S
predictions.
9. Continue to improve availability and reliability for EMALS, AAG, DBR, and AWE.58
June 2021 GAO Report
A June 2021 GAO report—the 2021 edition of GAO’s annual report assessing selected major
weapon acquisition programs—stated the following:
Technology Maturity, Design Stability, and Production Readiness
Although Navy officials report that the program’s 12 critical technologies are fully mature,
challenges persist with using these technologies and demonstrating their reliability. For
example, as of October 2020, the Navy had certified only six of the 11 elevators to operate
on the ship. Further, according to Navy officials, while six elevators are currently
operational—three Upper Stage, one utility elevator, and two Lower Stage—only the two
Lower Stage elevators are capable of delivering munitions to the main deck. The Navy is
working with the shipbuilder to complete the five remaining elevators—all Lower Stage
units—by the spring of 2021. The Navy plans to begin testing at a land-based site in early
2022—following a one-year delay due to contract issues—to assess the elevators’
performance and reliability. With units already operating on CVN 78, any changes to the
elevators resulting from land-based testing are likely to be costly and time-consuming for
the Ford-class program.
The Navy also continues to struggle with achieving the reliability of the electromagnetic
aircraft launch system (EMALS) and Arresting Gear (AAG) in support of its requirement
to rapidly deploy aircraft. The Navy is conducting shipboard testing as it prepares for
operational testing to begin in the summer of 2022. However, if these systems do not
reliably function during this test phase, CVN 78 may not be able to demonstrate it can
rapidly deploy aircraft. The Navy also does not expect EMALS and AAG to demonstrate
their required reliability until after CVN 78 has begun deploying to the fleet.
Since 2013, we have identified concerns with the Ford Class test schedule, which have
been borne out as the start of operational testing has now been delayed by over 5 years to
a planned date of August 2022. Most recently, program officials confirmed that the lead
ship (CVN 78) will reach initial capability in July 2021—4 months later than they reported
last year—to align with the completion of post-delivery testing. The Navy will declare
initial capability without demonstrating capability or performance through successful
operational testing, missing an opportunity to determine whether the ship is capable of
conducting mission operations. The Navy plans to complete operational testing in
November 2023.
Further, the 2013 test and evaluation master plan is no longer current and program officials
told us they anticipate sending the revised plan for Navy leadership review in early 2021.
Without an approved test plan, we cannot comment on the Navy’s test events and whether
current areas of technical risk inform the plan. We found past test plans to be optimistic,
with little margin for delays. Program officials stated that test plan revisions are not
delaying any required testing.
Software and Cybersecurity

58 Department of Defense, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation, FY2020 Annual Report, January 2021, pp. 137-
139.
Congressional Research Service

28

link to page 34 Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Separate program offices manage software development for CVN 78’s critical
technologies. The CVN 78 program is scheduled to complete an evaluation for potential
cybersecurity vulnerabilities connected with section 1647 of the National Defense
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 in May 2022.
Other Program Issues
The lead ship (CVN 78) cost cap is currently $13.2 billion, more than $2.7 billion higher
than its initial cap. Program officials do not believe they will need additional funding to
correct deficiencies found in CVN 78’s acceptance trials. However, until CVN 78’s testing
is completed, the risk of discovering more costly deficiencies persists.
The Navy is unlikely to obtain planned cost savings on CVN 79 due to several factors.
CVN 79 is 74 percent complete, but as of June 2020, ship construction is lagging behind
cost saving goals. Further, according to program officials, the shipbuilder’s COVID-19
pandemic mitigations also reduced construction efficiency. Officials also explained that
the Navy is making additional changes for CVN 79, including integrating F-35 aircraft and
adjusting to a new single-phase delivery schedule, but has yet to assess how these factors
will affect cost and schedule. The Navy reported awarding fixed-price contracts for CVNs
80 and 81 in January 2019, which it expects to limit cost liability and incentivize
shipbuilder performance. The Navy made optimistic assumptions that this two-ship
contract will save over $4 billion. We previously reported that the Navy’s own cost analysis
showed that CVNs 80 and 81 have a high likelihood of cost overruns, which aligns with
our findings on CVN 78 and CVN 79 cost growth.
Program Office Comments
We provided a draft of this assessment to the program office for review and comment. The
program office provided technical comments, which we incorporated where appropriate.
The program office stated that CVN 78 has completed 15 of 18 months of the ship’s post-
delivery test schedule. It added that during this time, CVN 78 recorded nearly 6,400 aircraft
launches and recoveries. According to the program office, the ship completed carrier
qualification for over 400 aviators and cleared 99 percent of discrepancies from its
acceptance trials. The program office noted that CVN 78 broke records for number of
aircraft landings in one day and for consecutive days at sea. Additionally, the program
office stated that CVN 80 will start construction in February 2022. Lastly, the program
office reported that COVID-19 continues to affect construction performance.59
Legislative Activity for FY2022
Summary of Congressional Action on FY2022 Funding Request
Table 4
summarizes congressional action on the FY2022 procurement funding request for the
CVN-78 program.


59 Government Accountability Office, Weapon Systems Annual Assessment[:] Updated Program Oversight Approach
Needed
, GAO-21-222, June 2021, p. 169.
Congressional Research Service

29

link to page 34 Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Table 4. Congressional Action on FY2022 Procurement Funding Request
Millions of dollars, rounded to nearest tenth.
Authorization
Appropriation

Request
HASC
SASC
Conf.
HAC
SAC
Conf.
CVN-78
0



0


CVN-79
291.0



291.0


CVN-80
1,068.7



1,062.2


CVN-81
1,299.8



1,287.7


Total above
2,659.5



2,640.9


Source: Table prepared by CRS based on Navy’s FY2022 budget submission, committee and conference
reports, and explanatory statements on FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act and FY2022 DOD
Appropriations Act.
Notes: HASC is House Armed Services Committee; SASC is Senate Armed Services Committee; HAC is
House Appropriations Committee; SAC is Senate Appropriations Committee; Conf. is conference agreement.
FY2022 DOD Appropriations Act (H.R. 4432)
House
The House Appropriations Committee, in its report (H.Rept. 117-88 of July 15, 2021) on H.R.
4432, recommended the funding levels shown in the HAC column of Table 4. The recommended
reduction of $6.5 million in procurement funding for CVN-80 is for “Basic construction growth,”
while the recommended reduction of $12.045 million for CVN-81 is for “Automatic carrier
landing system early to need” ($7.872 million) and “Air traffic control system early to need”
($4.173 million). (Page 185)
H.Rept. 117-88 states:
CVN–81 ELECTROMAGNETIC AIRCRAFT LAUNCHING SYSTEM AND
ADVANCED ARRESTING GEAR ACQUISITION STRATEGY
The Committee is concerned by the continued delays in the Navy’s approval of the
acquisition strategy for the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System and Advanced
Arresting Gear for CVN–81. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018
authorized a dual-hull buy which allowed for equipment and shipsets to be procured earlier
in the acquisition of CVN–80 and CVN–81, with a goal of realizing significant savings.
However, the three-year delay in approving an acquisition strategy and contracting for
these main mission components of the carrier is causing a disruption to the production and
manufacturing processes of these essential components, impacting the construction and
increasing the cost growth of CVN–81. The Committee encourages the Secretary of the
Navy to prioritize consideration and approval of an acquisition strategy to procure these
components. (Page 186)60


60 See also Anthony Capaccio, “Navy Contractor Fumes Over Slow Award on System Scorned by Trump,” Bloomberg,
July 13, 2021.
Congressional Research Service

30

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Appendix. Background Information on Two-Ship
Block Buy for CVN-80 and CVN-81
This appendix presents additional background information on the two-ship block buy contract for
CVN-80 and CVN-81.
The option for procuring two CVN-78 class carriers under a two-ship block buy contract had
been discussed in this CRS report since April 2012.61 In earlier years, the discussion focused on
the option of using a block buy contract for procuring CVN-79 and CVN-80. In more recent
years, interest among policymakers focused on the option of using a block buy contract for
procuring CVN-80 and CVN-81.
On March 19, 2018, the Navy released a request for proposal (RFP) to Huntington Ingalls
Industries/Newport News Shipbuilding (HII/NNS) regarding a two-ship buy of some kind for
CVN-80 and CVN-81. A March 20, 2018, Navy News Service report stated the following:
The Navy released a CVN 80/81 two-ship buy Request for Proposal (RFP) to Huntington
Ingalls Industries—Newport News Shipbuilding (HII-NNS) March 19 to further define the
cost savings achievable with a two-ship buy.
With lethality and affordability a top priority, the Navy has been working with HII-NNS
over the last several months to estimate the total savings associated with procuring CVN
80 and CVN 81 as a two-ship buy.
“In keeping with the National Defense Strategy, the Navy developed an acquisition strategy
to combine the CVN 80 and CVN 81 procurements to better achieve the Department’s
objectives of building a more lethal force with greater performance and affordability,” said
James F. Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Research Development and Acquisition.
“This opportunity for a two-ship contract is dependent on significant savings that the
shipbuilding industry and government must demonstrate. The Navy is requesting a
proposal from HII-NNS in order to evaluate whether we can achieve significant savings.”
The two-ship buy is a contracting strategy the Navy has effectively used in the 1980s to
procure Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and achieved significant acquisition cost savings
compared to contracting for the ships individually. While the CVN 80/81 two-ship buy
negotiations transpire, the Navy is pursuing contracting actions necessary to continue CVN
80 fabrication in fiscal year (FY) 2018 and preserve the current schedule. The Navy plans
to award the CVN 80 construction contract in early FY 2019 as a two-ship buy pending
Congressional approval and achieving significant savings.62
Section 121(a)(2) of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019
(H.R. 5515/P.L. 115-232 of August 13, 2018) permitted the Navy, after DOD made certain
certifications to Congress, to add CVN-81 to the existing contract for building CVN-80. DOD
provided the required certification on December 31, 2018. On January 31, 2019, the Navy

61 See the section entitled “Potential Two-Ship Block Buy on CVN-79 and CVN-80” in the April 4, 2012, version of
CRS Report RS20643, Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress, by
Ronald O'Rourke. In more recent years, this section was modified to discuss the option in connection with CVN-80 and
CVN-81.
62 Naval Sea Systems Command Public Affairs, “Navy Seeks Savings, Releases Two-Carrier RFP,” Navy News, March
20, 2018. See also Megan Eckstein, “UPDATED: Navy, Newport News Taking Steps Towards Two-Carrier Buy,”
USNI News, March 19, 2018.
Congressional Research Service

31

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

announced that it had awarded a two-ship fixed-price incentive (firm target) (FPIF) contract for
CVN-80 and CVN-81 to HII/NNS.63
The two-ship contract for CVN-80 and CVN-81 can be viewed as a block buy contract because
the two ships are being procured in different fiscal years (CVN-80 was procured in FY2018 and
CVN-81 is shown in the Navy’s FY2020 budget submission as a ship procured in FY2020).64 The
Navy’s previous two-ship aircraft carrier procurements occurred in FY1983 (for CVN-72 and
CVN-73) and FY1988 (for CVN-74 and CVN-75). In each of those two earlier cases, however,
the two ships were fully funded within a single fiscal year, making each of these cases a simple
two-ship purchase (akin, for example, to procuring two Virginia-class attack submarines or two
DDG-51 class destroyers in a given fiscal year) rather than a two-ship block buy (i.e., a contract
spanning the procurement of end items procured across more than one fiscal year).
Compared to DOD’s estimate that the two-ship block buy contract for CVN-80 and CVN-81
would produce savings of $3.9 billion (as measured from estimated costs for the two ships in the
December 2017 Navy business case analysis), DOD states that “the Department of Defense’s
Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) developed an Independent Estimate
of Savings for the two-ship procurement and forecast savings of $3.1 billion ([in] Then-Year
[dollars]), or approximately 11 percent.... The primary differences between [the] CAPE and Navy
estimates of savings are in Government Furnished Equipment65 and production change orders.”66
Within the total estimated combined reduction in cost, HII/NNS reportedly expects to save up to
$1.6 billion in contractor-furnished equipment.67
A November 2018 DOD report to Congress that was submitted as an attachment to DOD’s
December 31, 2018, certification stated the following regarding the sources of cost reduction for
the two-ship contract:
The CVN 80 and CVN 81 two-ship buy expands and improves upon the affordability
initiatives identified in the Annual Report on Cost Reduction Efforts for JOHN F.
KENNEDY (CVN 79) and ENTERPRISE (CVN 80) as required by section 126(c) of the
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (P.L. 114-328). Production
saving initiatives for single-ship buys included use of unit families in construction, pre-
outfitting and complex assemblies which move work to a more efficient workspace
environment, reduction in the number of superlifts,68 and facility investments which
improve the shipbuilder trade effectiveness. A two-ship buy assumes four years between

63 See Office of the Navy Chief of Information, “Navy Awards Contract for Construction of Two Carriers,” Navy News
Service, January 31, 2019; Megan Eckstein, “UPDATED: Navy Awards 2-Carrier Contract to Newport News
Shipbuilding,” USNI News, January 31, 2019; Marcus Weisgerber, “US Navy Places First 2-Carrier Order in Three
Decades,” Defense One, January 31, 2019; David B. Larter, “US Navy Signs Mammoth Contract with Huntington
Ingalls for Two Aircraft Carriers,” Defense News, January 31, 2019; Rich Abott, “Navy Awards HII $15 Billion In
Two Carrier Buy,” Defense Daily, February 1, 2019.
64 For more on block buy contracting, see CRS Report R41909, Multiyear Procurement (MYP) and Block Buy
Contracting in Defense Acquisition: Background and Issues for Congress
, by Ronald O'Rourke.
65 Government-furnished equipment (GFE) is equipment that the government purchases from supplier firms and then
provides to the shipbuilder for incorporation into the ships.
66 Department of Defense, FORD Class Aircraft Carrier Certification, CVN 80 and CVN 81 Two Ship Procurement
Authority, as Required by Section 121(b) of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year
2019 (P.L. 115-232), November 2018, pp. 8-9.
67 Rich Abott, “Navy Awards HII $15 Billion In Two Carrier Buy,” Defense Daily, February 1, 2019. Contractor-
furnished equipment (CFE) is equipment that the contractor (in this case, HII/NNS) purchases from supplier firms for
incorporation into the ships.
68 A superlift is the use of a crane to move a very large section of the ship from the land into its final position on the
ship.
Congressional Research Service

32

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

ship deliveries which allows more schedule overlap, and therefore more shop-level and
assembly-level production efficiencies than two single-ship buys.
Procuring two ships to a single technical baseline reduces the requirement for engineering
labor hours when compared to single-ship estimates. The ability to rollover production
support engineering and planning products maximizes savings while recognizing the
minimum amount of engineering labor necessary to address obsolescence and regulatory
changes on CVN 81. The two-ship agreement with the shipbuilder achieves a 55 percent
reduction in construction support engineering hours on CVN 81 and greater than 18 percent
reduction in production support and planning hours compared to single ship procurements.
The two-ship procurement strategy allows for serial production opportunities that promote
tangible learning and reduced shop and machine set-up times. It allows for efficient use of
production facilities, re-use of production jigs and fixtures, and level loading of key trades.
The continuity of work allows for reductions in supervision, services and support costs.
The result of these efficiencies is a production man-hours step down that is equivalent to
an 82 percent learning curve since CVN 79.
Key to achieving these production efficiencies is Integrated Digital Shipbuilding (iDS).
The Navy’s Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) and the shipbuilder’s
investment in iDS, totaling $631 million, will reduce the amount of production effort
required to build FORD Class carriers. The two-ship buy will accelerate the benefits of this
approach. The ability to immediately use the capability on CVN 81 would lead to a further
reduction in touch labor and services in affected value streams. The two-ship agreement
with the shipbuilder represents a production man-hours reduction of over seven percent
based on iDS efficiencies. Contractual authority for two ships allows the shipbuilder to
maximize economic order quantity material procurement. This allows more efficient
ordering and scheduling of material deliveries and will promote efficiencies through earlier
ordering, single negotiations, vendor quotes, and cross program purchase orders. These
efficiencies are expected to reduce material costs by about six percent more when
compared to single-ship estimates. Improved material management and flexibility will
prevent costly production delays. Furthermore, this provides stability within the nuclear
industrial base, de-risking the COLUMBIA and VIRGINIA Class programs. The two-ship
buy would provide economic stability to approximately 130,000 workers across 46 States
within the industrial base.
Change order requirements are likewise reduced as Government Furnished Equipment
(GFE) providers will employ planning and procurement strategies based on the common
technical baseline that minimize configuration changes that must be incorporated on the
follow ship. Change order budget allocations have been reduced over 25 percent based on
two-ship strategies.
In addition to the discrete savings achieved with the shipbuilder, the two-ship procurement
authority provides our partner GFE providers a similar opportunity to negotiate economic
order quantity savings and achieve cross program savings when compared to single-ship
estimates.69
An April 16, 2018, press report stated the following:
If the Navy decides to buy aircraft carriers CVN-80 and 81 together, Newport News
Shipbuilding will be able to maintain a steady workload that supports between 23,000 and
25,000 workers at the Virginia yard for the next decade or so, the shipyard president told
reporters last week.

69 Department of Defense, FORD Class Aircraft Carrier Certification, CVN 80 and CVN 81 Two Ship Procurement
Authority, as Required by Section 121(b) of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year
2019 (P.L. 115-232), November 2018, pp. 6-7.
Congressional Research Service

33

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Part of the appeal of buying the two carriers together is that the Navy would also buy them
a bit closer together: the ships would be centered about three-and-a-half or four years apart,
instead of the five-year centers for recent carrier acquisition, Newport News Shipbuilding
President Jennifer Boykin told reporters.
Boykin said the closer ship construction centers would allow her to avoid a “labor valley”
where the workforce levels would dip down after one ship and then have to come back up,
which is disruptive for employees and costly for the company.
If this two-carrier buy goes through, the company would avoid the labor valley altogether
and ensure stability in its workforce, Boykin said in a company media briefing at the Navy
League’s Sea Air Space 2018 symposium. That workforce stability contributes to an
expected $1.6 billion in savings on the two-carrier buy from Newport News Shipbuilding’s
portion of the work alone, not including government-furnished equipment....
Boykin said four main things contribute to the expected $1.6 billion in savings from the
two-carrier buy. First, “if you don’t have the workforce valley, there’s a labor efficiency
that represents savings.”
Second, “if you buy two at once, my engineering team doesn’t have to produce two
technical baselines, two sets of technical products; they only have to produce one, and the
applicability is to both, so there’s savings there. When we come through the planning, the
build plan of how we plan to build the ship, the planning organization only has to put out
one plan and the applicability is to both, so there’s savings there.”
The third savings is a value of money over time issue, she said, and fourth is economic
order quantity savings throughout the entire supply chain.70
Discussions of the option of using a block buy contract for procuring carriers have focused on
using it to procure two carriers in part because carriers have been procured on five-year centers,
meaning that two carriers could be included in a block-buy contract spanning six years—the same
number of years originally planned for the two block buy contracts that were used to procure
mnay of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships.71
It can be noted, however, that there is no statutory limit on the number of years that a block buy
contract can cover, and that the LCS block buy contracts were subsequently amended to cover
LCSs procured in a seventh year. This, and the possibility of procuring carriers on 3- or 3.5-year
centers, raises the possibility of using a block buy contract to procure three aircraft carriers: For
example, if procurement of aircraft carriers were shifted to 3- or 3.5-year centers, a block buy
contract for procuring CVN-80, CVN-81, and CVN-82 could span seven years (with the first ship
procured in FY2018, and the third ship procured in FY2024) or eight years (with the first ship
procured in FY2018 and the third ship procured in FY2025).
The percentage cost reduction possible under a three-ship block buy contract could be greater
than that possible under a two-ship block buy contract, but the offsetting issue of reducing
congressional flexibility for changing aircraft carrier procurement plans in coming years in
response to changing strategic or budgetary circumstances could also be greater.

70 Megan Eckstein, “Newport News Would Save $1.6 Billion, Maintain Stable Workforce of 25,000 Under 2 Proposed
Carrier Buy,” USNI News, April 16, 2018. See also Rich Abott, “HII Sees Two Carrier Buy Saving $1.6 Billion Before
GFE,” Defense Daily, April 11, 2018: 10-11.
71 For more on the LCS block buy contracts, see CRS Report RL33741, Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program:
Background and Issues for Congress
, by Ronald O'Rourke.
Congressional Research Service

34

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress


Author Information

Ronald O'Rourke

Specialist in Naval Affairs



Disclaimer
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in
its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include copyrighted images or
material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you wish to
copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.

Congressional Research Service
RS20643 · VERSION 252 · UPDATED
35