The House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower approved construction of the fourth Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, CVN-81, in its mark of the FY ’19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The authorization for CVN-81 starts in FY ’19 and is set to be the second carrier in a possible two-carrier buy the service is examining with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII].

The Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) after launching in 2012. Photo: Huntington Ingalls Industries
The Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) after launching in 2012. Photo: Huntington Ingalls Industries

This month assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN-RDA) James Geurts told the subcommittee it expects to have an analysis of the two-carrier buy plan finished by May or early June (Defense Daily, April 13).

The mark specifies this is an addition to the contract covering CVN-80 and says the Navy may use incremental funding to make payments under the CVN-81 contract. A committee staffer told reporters in a briefing the committee endorses this plan and said the Navy indicated it expects savings of up to $2.5 billion.

The staffer also said this dual purchase would change the ship authorization centers. Currently Congress is on a “cadence of building or authorizing an aircraft carrier every five years.”

By moving to this procurement, the committee is “moving this forward by two years, putting it on three-year centers.”

The staffer underscored the committee does not presume the three-year center to hold indefinitely, only indicating that for CVN-81. “I think frankly it’s too early to tell with regards to CVN-82,” the staffer said.

The mark also directs the Secretary of the Navy to brief the House Armed Services Committee on options to extend the service life of the USS Nimitz (CVN-68). The committee is concerned that the Nimitz is set to be retired shortly after the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) will be delivered in 2023, decreasing the total carrier count from 12 to 11.

“The committee believes that there are several options to retain required aircraft carrier force structure” including both accelerating Ford-class construction and possible service life extensions for the Nimitz.

The briefing must include things like cost estimates and major modernization components.

A committee staffer told reporters that the first major limiting factor in extending current carriers is the nuclear reactor core.

“That’s something that the committee is interested in taking a specific look at – is the reactor core in CVN-68, whether we can extend the service life beyond what it currently is.”