SAN DIEGO— Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said now that the Navy found a way to build two new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers while saving money it is starting to look at future carrier procurement, which might be very different.

Last month, the Navy officially signed a

$15 billion contract with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] to buy two Ford-class carriers at once, the future USS Enterprise (CVN-80) and CVN-81, to save about $4 billion over the cost of buying them separately (Defense Daily, Jan. 31).

The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean when it was conducting test and evaluation operation in July 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Navy expects the two carriers combined to cost about $24 billion, compared to $28 billion if bought separately (Defense Daily, Feb. 1).

Modly said Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer sees $13 billion carriers as not sustainable going forward and the service will be looking at ways to further reduce costs or keep the carrier capabilities more affordable in future ship procurements.

“There was general conclusion that those two for sure would be built” and once that was determined “that was going to happen,” Modly said during the AFCEA West 2019 conference here.

Once the Navy decided it was fairly certain they need to buy at least two more carriers, “it made no sense to say alright, let’s buy one now and then do the contract for the other one two to three years form now when the price is going to be significantly more.”

The $4 billion in savings helped the Navy justify the per-carrier cost this time, but another dual carrier buy after CVN-81 would drive the price down again, Modly said. The Navy is now starting to examine a diverse range of carrier options.

After the CVN-80 and -81 decision was made, “I think a lot of derivative decisions still need to be made. So the secretary [Spencer] would like to take a look at ‘O.K. now that we made that decision, and that second one that comes will be in quite a few years from now, we need to start thinking now about what’s the next one look like.’”

Modly told reporters they are asking questions like “Is it going to be advanced as this one? Or is it going to be smaller or are we going to buy two smaller ones or maybe shift air power to other forms of delivery. And we don’t know the answers of that but we’re looking at this.”