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Friday, January 8, 2010

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

Ronald O'Rourke Specialist in Naval Affairs

CVN-78 and CVN-79 are the first two ships in the Navy's new Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. CVN-78 was procured in FY2008 and is scheduled to enter service in 2015. The ship's procurement cost is estimated in the proposed FY2010 budget at $10,846 million in then-year dollars—$389 million (about 3.7%) more than the estimate in the FY2009 budget. Although CVN-78 was procured in FY2008, it is being funded with four-year incremental funding across FY2008-FY2011. The proposed FY2010 requests $739.3 million in procurement funding to help complete the ship's procurement cost. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported in June 2008 that it estimates that CVN-78 will cost about $900 million more than the Navy estimates, 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." The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and other observers have expressed concern that difficulties in developing the CVN-78's new electromagnetic aircraft catapult (called the electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS), could delay the schedule for building the ship and increase the ship's construction cost. GAO highlighted the issue in a March 2009 report to Congress. The issue was the subject of a July 16, 2009, hearing before the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. 

CVN-79 was scheduled under the FY2009 budget to be procured in FY2012. Under the proposed FY2010 budget, the ship's procurement would be deferred one year, to FY2013. CVN-79's procurement cost was estimated in the FY2009 budget at about $9.2 billion in then-year dollars. The ship has been receiving advance procurement (AP) funding since FY2007 (including about $1.2 billion in AP funding in FY2009). The proposed FY2010 budget requests $484.4 million in AP funding for the ship. (The FY2009 budget had projected that about $807 million would be requested in FY2010.) Deferring CVN-79's procurement to FY2013 has almost certainly increased the ship's estimated procurement cost, but the Navy has not released a new cost estimate for the ship. 

One potential FY2010 issue for Congress is whether to approve DOD's proposal to defer CVN- 79's procurement to FY2013, or instead maintain FY2012 as the ship's year of procurement. A second potential FY2010 issue for Congress is whether to provide a legislative waiver permitting the Navy's carrier force to temporarily decline from 11 ships to 10 ships during a 33-month period between 2012 (when the aging aircraft carrier Enterprise [CVN-65] is scheduled to retire) and 2015 (when CVN-78 is scheduled to enter service as its replacement). 

In the FY2010 defense authorization act (H.R. 2647/P.L. 111-84 of October 28, 2009), Section 124(b), permits the Navy to use advance procurement funding provided for CVN-79 in FY2010 and subsequent years for advance construction activities. Section 126 requires the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on the effects of using a fiveyear interval for the construction of Ford-class aircraft carriers. Section 1023 authorizes a waiver to 10 USC 5062(b), so as to permit the Navy's carrier force to decline from 11 ships to 10 between the decommissioning of the Enterprise (CVN-65) and the commissioning of CVN-78, and requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a report on the operational risk of temporarily reducing the size of the carrier force. Section 1076 expresses the sense of the Congress regarding carrier air wing force structure. 

The explanatory statement on the final version of the FY2010 DOD appropriations act (H.R. 3326/P.L., 111-118 of December 19, 2009) approves the Administration's FY2010 request for procurement and advance procurement funding for the CVN-78 program.


Date of Report: December 22, 2009
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: RS20643
Price: $29.95

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