Why the U.S. Navy Loves Big Aircraft Carriers

A new RAND Corporation study has concluded that bigger aircraft carriers such as the Gerald R. Ford -class are more effective and more survivable than smaller carriers. While a slightly smaller 70,000-ton design would be cheaper to operate, such as a vessel would be more vulnerable while costing extra money to develop and build.

Even smaller light carriers would be much cheaper, but also much less effective and much less survivable. Thus, those vessels are not worth it.

Among the four options the RAND study looked at was a “CVN 8X, the descoped Ford -class carrier,” a 70,000-ton CVN LX, a short takeoff vertical landing 40,000-ton conventionally powered CV LX and a 20,000-ton CV EX escort carrier. Out of the designs studied, the CVN-8X was the most effective, with performance comparable to the current Gerald R. Ford -class. However, the Ford is still a better, more capable ship for a price that is not much greater.

“The CVN 8X, the descoped Ford -class carrier , offers similar warfighting capability to that of the Ford -class carrier today,” the report states.

“There might be opportunities to reduce costs by eliminating costly features that only marginally improve capability, but similar trade-offs are likely to be made in the current program as well.”

The CVN LX was also comparable in capability to the Ford class, but made tradeoffs in terms of survivability.

“The CVN LX concept variant offers an integrated, current air wing with capabilities near current levels but with less organic mission endurance for weapons and aviation fuel,” the report states. Above — from front, the Italian carrier ‘Cavour,’ the U.S. Navy carrier USS ‘Harry S. Truman’ and the French carrier ‘Charles de Gaulle.’ U.S. Navy photo. At top — USS ‘Gerald R. Ford.’ U.S. Navy photo The CV LV and the CV EX were judged not to be effective or survivable.

“Over the long term, however, as the current carrier force is retired, the CV LX would not be a viable option for the eventual carrier force unless displaced capabilities were reassigned to new aircraft or platforms in the joint force, which would be costly,” the report reads.

“This platform would be feasible for a subset of carrier missions but, even for those missions, could require an increase in the number of platforms. This concept variant might, if procured in sufficient numbers, eventually enable the Navy to reduce the number of Ford -class carriers in the overall force structure, but more extensive analysis of missions, operations, and basing of such a variant and the supported air combat element is required.”

On the cost side of the equation, the CVN 8X would only offer minimal cost savings — thus it might be better just to continue building Ford -class carriers as planned. USS ‘Gerald R. Ford.’ U.S. Navy photo “The descoped Ford -class carrier, the CVN 8X, might generate fewer sorties than the current key performance parameter values for the Ford class and might have only incremental reduction in overall platform cost ,” the report states.

“The analysis examining cost reduction […]