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
Specialist in Naval Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
The Navy’s proposed FY2009 budget requested $2,712 million in procurement
funding for CVN-78, the first ship in the Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) class of aircraft
carriers, which was earlier known as the CVN-21 class. Although CVN-78 was
procured in FY2008, the Navy’s budget includes procurement funding for the ship in
FY2009, FY2010, and FY2011. The Navy’s proposed FY2008 budget also requested
$1,214 million in advance procurement funding for CVN-79, the second ship in the
class, which the Navy wants to procure in FY2012. The Navy’s estimated procurement
costs for CVN-78 and CVN-79 are about $10.5 billion and $9.2 billion, respectively.
This report will be updated as events warrant.
The Navy’s Current Carrier Force. The Navy’s current aircraft carrier force
includes one conventionally powered carrier, Kitty Hawk (CV-63), and 10 nuclear-
powered carriers — the one-of-a-kind Enterprise (CVN-65) and 9 Nimitz-class ships
(CVN-68 through CVN-76). The most recently commissioned carrier, the Ronald Reagan
(CVN-76), was procured in FY1995 and entered service in July 2003 as the replacement
for the Constellation (CV-64). The next carrier, the George H. W. Bush (CVN-77), also
a Nimitz-class ship, was procured in FY2001 and is scheduled to be commissioned into
service on January 10, 2009, as the replacement for the Kitty Hawk.
The Aircraft Carrier Construction Industrial Base. All U.S. aircraft carriers
procured since FY1958 have been built by Newport News Shipbuilding of Newport
News, VA, a shipyard that forms part of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding (NGSB).
Newport News is the only U.S. shipyard that can build large-deck, nuclear-powered
aircraft carriers. The aircraft carrier construction industrial base also includes hundreds
of subcontractors and suppliers in dozens of states.
CVN-77. CVN-77, which was named the George H. W. Bush on December 9, 2002,
is the Navy’s tenth and final Nimitz-class carrier. Congress approved $4,053.7 million
in FY2001 procurement funding to complete the ship’s then-estimated total procurement
cost of $4,974.9 million. Section 122 of the FY1998 defense authorization act (H.R.
1119/P.L. 105-85 of November 18, 1997) limited the ship’s procurement cost to $4.6
billion, plus adjustments for inflation and other factors. The Navy testified in 2006 that
with these permitted adjustments, the cost cap stood at $5.357 billion. The Navy also
testified that CVN-77’s estimated construction cost had increased to $6.057 billion, or
$700 million above the adjusted cost cap. Consequently, the Navy in 2006 requested that
Congress increase the cost cap to $6.057 billion. Congress approved this request: Section
Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) Class Program. The Navy’s successor to the
Nimitz-class aircraft carrier design is the Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) class design. The
design was earlier known as the CVN-21 class, which meant nuclear-powered aircraft
carrier for the 21st Century. Compared to the Nimitz-class design, the Ford-class design
will incorporate several improvements, including an ability to generate substantially more
aircraft sorties per day and features permitting the ship to be operated by several hundred
fewer sailors than a Nimitz-class ship, significantly reducing life-cycle operating and
support costs. Navy plans call for procuring at least three Ford-class carriers — CVN-78,
CVN-79, and CVN-80 — in FY2008, FY2012, and FY2016, respectively. Table 1 shows
funding for the three ships through FY2013.
Table 1. Funding for CVN-78, CVN-79, and CVN-80, FY1997-FY2013
(millions of then-year dollars, rounded to nearest million; figures may not add due to rounding)
To t a l
CVN 97-00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 thru
Procurement (Shipbuilding and Conversion, Navy [SCN] account)
78 0 22 135 395 1163 623 619 736 2685 2712 688 679 0 0 10457
79 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 53 124 1214 807 465 2312 2286 7261
Subt o t a l 0 22 135 395 1163 623 619 789 2809 3926 1495 1144 2513 3172 18805
Research and development (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation [RDTEN] account)
78 308 231 277 317 306 350 303 284 202 223 153 109 107 106 3276
79 00 5 0 0 0 017273839301917192
Subt o t a l 308 231 282 317 306 350 303 301 229 261 192 181 174 171 3606
TO TA L 308 253 417 712 1469 973 922 1090 3038 4187 1687 1325 2687 3343 22411
Source: Navy data provided to CRS on March 6, 2008, based on FY2009 budget submission.
Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78). CVN-78 was procured in FY2008 and is scheduled
to enter service in 2015 as the replacement for Enterprise, which is scheduled to retire in
2012, at age 52.1 The Navy projects that there will be a 33-month period between the
scheduled decommissioning of Enterprise in November 2012 and the scheduled
commissioning of CVN-78 in September 2015. During this 33-month period, the Navy’s
carrier force will decline from 11 ships to 10.
As can be seen in Table 1, although CVN-78 was procured in FY2008, the Navy’s
FY2009 budget includes procurement funding for the ship in FY2009, FY2010, and
FY2011. This is consistent with Section 121 of the FY2007 defense authorization act
(H.R. 5122/P.L. 109-364 of October 17, 2006), which granted the Navy the authority to
use four-year incremental funding for CVN-78, CVN-79, and CVN-80. The Navy’s
proposed FY2009 budget requests $2,712 million in procurement funding for CVN-78.
The Navy estimates CVN-78’s total acquisition (i.e., research and development plus
procurement) cost at more than $13.7 billion. As shown in Table 1, this figure includes
about $3.3 billion in research and development costs through FY2013, and about $10.5
billion in procurement costs. The procurement cost figure includes about $2.4 billion for
detailed design and nonrecurring engineering (DD/NRE) work for the CVN-78 class, and
about $8.1 billion for building CVN-78 itself. Including the DD/NRE costs for a ship
class in the procurement cost of the lead ship in the class is a traditional Navy ship
procurement budgeting practice.
CVN-79 and CVN-80. The Navy wants to procure CVN-79 in FY2012 and have
it enter service in 2019. The Navy’s estimated procurement cost for CVN-79 is about
$9.2 billion in then-year dollars, and the Navy’s proposed FY2009 budget requests $1,214
million in advance procurement funding for the ship. The Navy wants to procure CVN-80
in FY2016 and have it enter service around 2023. The Navy’s estimated procurement cost
for CVN-80 is about $10.7 billion in then-year dollars. As shown in Table 1, the Navy
plans to request an initial increment of $201 million in advance procurement funding for
the ship in FY2012.
Procurement Cost Cap. Section 122 of P.L. 109-364 establishes 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 on P.L. 109-364
(H.Rept. 109-702 of September 29, 2006) discusses Section 122 on pages 551-552.
Issues for Congress
Accuracy of Cost Estimate for CVN-78. Both the Congressional Budget Office
(CBO) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have questioned the accuracy
of the Navy’s cost estimate for CVN-78. CBO reported in June 2008 that it estimates that
CVN-78 will cost $11.2 billion in constant FY2009 dollars, or about $900 million more
1 Section 1012 of the FY2007 defense authorization act (H.R. 5122/P.L. 109-364 of October 17,
2006) expressed the sense of the 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 will consequently be referred to as Ford (CVN-78)
class carriers. For further discussion of Navy ship names, see CRS Report RS22478, Navy Ship
Names: Background For Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
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 expresses 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
believes there is more than a 50% chance that the estimate will be exceeded.2
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 and3
take necessary corrective action.
Technical Risk. The Navy faces challenges in developing certain new
technologies intended for CVN-78, particularly the electromagnetic aircraft launch system
(EMALS) — an electromagnetic (as opposed to the traditional steam-powered) aircraft
catapult. Problems in developing EMALS or other technologies could delay the ship’s
completion and increase its development and/or procurement cost. GAO reported in
March 2008 that:
Five of 15 current critical technologies [for CVN-78] are fully mature, including
the nuclear propulsion and electric plant. Six technologies are expected to approach
maturity, while four others will remain at lower maturity by construction contract
award.... Of CVN 21’s technologies, the electromagnetic aircraft launch system
(EMALS), the advanced arresting gear, and the dual band radar (composed of the
volume search and multifunction radars) present the greatest risk to the ship’s cost and
schedule.... Challenges in technology development could lead to delays in maintaining
the design schedule needed for construction....
EMALS will not be tested at sea, but a production model is now scheduled to
begin land-based testing in 2009. Difficulties developing the generator and meeting
detailed Navy requirements have already led to a 15-month schedule delay. Problems
manufacturing the generator recently delayed testing scheduled to begin by February
2 Congressional Budget Office, Resource Implications of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2009
Shipbuilding Plan, June 9, 2008, p. 20.
3 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.
2008. The Navy is considering authorizing production of the generators prior to
completing initial testing in order to ensure delivery to support CVN 78’s construction
schedule. As a consequence, production may begin prior to demonstrating that the
generators work as intended. Timely delivery of EMALS remains at risk. Problems
that occur in testing or production will likely prevent EMALS from being delivered
to the shipyard to meet the construction schedule.
The dual band radar is being developed as part of the DDG 1000 [destroyer]4
program. In 2007 DOD reassessed the multifunction radar’s readiness. Since modes
critical to CVN 21 have not yet been tested, including electronic protection and air
traffic control, the radar could not be considered fully mature. While the multifunction
radar has been tested at sea, considerable testing remains for the volume search radar.
Due to problems with a critical circuit technology, the volume search radar will not
demonstrate the power output needed to meet requirements during upcoming testing.
Full power output will not be tested on a complete system until the first production
unit in 2010, and the radar will not be fully demonstrated until operational testing on
DDG 1000 in 2013. Problems discovered during testing may affect installation on the
carrier scheduled to begin in 2012.
The advanced arresting gear completed early verification tests that proved the
system’s concept and tested components. Integrated testing with simulated and live
aircraft is scheduled to begin in 2009. Delays have led the Navy to consolidate test
events in order to maintain the shipyard delivery date, leaving little time to address
any problems prior to production. Late delivery will require the shipbuilder to install
this system after the flight deck has been laid, disrupting the optimal build sequence
and increasing cost.
Other technologies will not be fully matured by construction contract award, but
present less risk to ship construction....
According to the Navy, the design [for CVN-78] is on track to support construction.
However, the program may face challenges in maintaining its design schedule due to
delays in the receipt of technical information on some key technologies. In particular,
late delivery of information on EMALS is driving inefficiencies in design
development and must be resolved to prevent late delivery of design products needed5
Decline in Carrier Force Between Enterprise Decommissioning and
CVN-78 Commissioning. As mentioned earlier, during the projected 33-month period
between the scheduled decommissioning of Enterprise in 2012 and the scheduled
commissioning of CVN-78 in 2015, the carrier force under Navy plans is to decline from
11 ships to 10. 10 USC 5062(b) requires the Navy to maintain a force of at least 11
carriers. The Navy in 2007 asked Congress for legislative relief to waive this provision
so as to permit the carrier force to decline to 10 ships during the period between the
decommissioning of Enterprise and the commissioning of CVN-78. Congress in 2007 did
not act on that request. The Navy in 2008 again asked Congress for legislative relief on
4 For more on the DDG-1000 program, see CRS Report RL32109, Navy DDG-1000 Destroyer
Program: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
5 Government Accountability Office, Defense Acquisitions[:] Assessments of Selected Weapon
Programs, GAO-08-467SP, March 2008, pp. 65-66.
Legislative Activity for FY2009
FY2009 Defense Authorization Bill (H.R. 5658/S. 3001). The House and
Senate Armed Services Committees, in their reports (H.Rept. 110-652 of May 16, 2008,
and S.Rept. 110-335 of May 12, 2008, respectively) on the FY2009 defense authorization
bill (H.R. 5658/S. 3001), recommended approval of the Navy’s FY2009 procurement
funding request for CVN-78 and FY2009 advance procurement funding request for CVN-
79. Neither committee agreed to the Navy’s request for legislative relief to temporarily
waive 10 USC 5062(b) so as to permit the carrier force to temporarily decline to 10 ships.
The House committee explicitly rejected the Navy’s request and directed the Navy to
submit a report on the cost and potential schedule implications of either returning the
retired aircraft carrier Kennedy (CV-67) to service or retaining the Kitty Hawk in service
during the period between the retirement of the Enterprise and the commissioning of
CVN-78 (H.Rept. 110-652, page 81).
In lieu of a conference report, there was a compromise version of S. 3001
accompanied by a joint explanatory statement. The bill recommends approval of the
Navy’s FY2009 procurement funding request for CVN-78 and FY2009 advance
procurement funding request for CVN-79.
FY2009 Defense Appropriations Bill (Division C of H.R. 2638). House and
Senate committee reports were not filed on the FY2009 defense appropriations bill. The
bill was marked up by the Defense subcommittees of the House and Senate
Appropriations Committees on July 30 and September 10, 2008, respectively, and press
releases were issued on those dates summarizing certain features of the markups. The
press releases do not mention the CVN-78 program.
In lieu of a conference report on the FY2009 defense appropriations bill, there was
a compromise version of the bill that became Division C of H.R. 2638, a consolidated
appropriations bill that was accompanied by an explanatory statement. H.R. 2638 reduces
the Navy’s FY2009 procurement funding request for CVN-78 by $19.644 million and
approves the Navy’s FY2009 advance procurement funding request for CVN-79. The
$19.644-million reduction for CVN-78 consists of a reduction of $2.0 million for
“AN/SLQ-32 Growth” (the SLQ-32 is an electronic warfare system on the ship); a
reduction of $12.0 million for “Hull, Mechanical, and Electrical Supports Services
Growth”; a reduction of $1.644 million for “Excess Global Command and Control-
Maritime Support Funding”; and a $4.0 million reduction for “Cooperative Engagement
Capability Excess Funding.” The explanatory statement states:
An additional $24,000,000 is provided to address cost overruns in the
Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) program. Due to continuing
concerns about meeting the schedule for integration into PCU [pre-commissioning
unit — a term for a ship that is under construction] Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the
Secretary ofthe Navy is directed to submit a report to the congressional defense
committees by April 1, 2009, which shall contain a description of efforts to control
cost and schedule, an updated schedule for completion of research and development
efforts and integration into CVN-78, and an assessment of aircraft launch system
options for CVN78, including cost estimates of those options, if the EMALS program
experiences further delays.