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CVN-X Next Generation Nuclear Aircraft Carrier

CVNX, the centerpiece of the Navy's next generation carrier Fleet, will be a large-deck, nuclear-powered ship. This next generation aircraft carrier will be achieved at an affordable, evolutionary pace beginning with CVN 77. CVN 77 will have a newly designed and integrated combat system that eliminates rotating antennas. CVNX 1 will incorporate this new CVN 77 integrated combat system, and will add both a new nuclear propulsion plant and a new electrical power and distribution system. The new nuclear propulsion plant will provide immediate warfighting enhancements, immediate life cycle cost reductions, and will enable future warfighting enhancements and further life cycle cost reductions. Subsequent carriers will feature additional new technologies including an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS), an Electromagnetic Aircraft Recovery System (EARS), improved crew habitability, survivability improvements, performance improvements, and new functional arrangements and distributed systems.

The CVNX is designed to deliver more combat power through its ability to arm and refuel, launch, and recover aircraft more rapidly and effectively than current ships. An advanced weapons-information management systems automates the process of weapons movement from magazines to aircraft. The electromagnetic aircraft launching sand arresting systems require less wind across the deck for aircraft launch recovery, and significantly accelerates the process of "turning around" combat aircraft and generating high sortie rates. The CVNX is optimized to support the next-generation Navy combat aircraft such as the Super Hornet and the Joint Strike Fighter.

The CVNX features a substantially smaller redesigned command "island" (the carrier superstructure) than current aircraft carriers, as well multifunction arrays that replace the forest of antennas that current ships sprout, making the carrier inherently harder to detect and attack. Additionally, the ship's more capable electrical power distribution system supports the future addition of directed energy weapons that can provide enhanced shipboard self-defense, to an already highly survivable design. Finally, a redundant electrical grid system and advanced damage-control features make the ship more capable of surviving battle damage.

The FY01 budget request included $21.9 million for advance procurement and advance construction of long lead time components for CVN-X 1. The Navy's long-term plan was to provide full funding for CVN-X 1 in FY06. There were a number of castings for the large machinery associated with an aircraft carrier propulsion plant that have a very long production lead time. To maintain the schedule for CVN-X 1 and deliver these needed pieces of machinery as required by the construction sequence, the Navy needed to obligate funds for some of these components in FY01.

On 13 July 2000 the Senate authorized the Secretary of the Navy to procure the aircraft carrier to be designated CVNX-1. The Secretary could enter into one or more contracts for the advance procurement and advance construction of components for the ship, with $21,869,000 authorized for the advance procurement and advance construction of components (including nuclear components) for the CVN-X 1 aircraft carrier program.

Under the FY03 budget proposal, the Navy requested $243.7 million for the third year of advance procurement for CVNX-1, but delayed the planned full-contract award for the ship from 2006 to 2007. The one year delay would reportedly have increased the long-term costs of the ship by $400 million, due to escalation, disruption to the supplier base and increased labor costs. In March 2002 Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) sought to add the $285 million for CVN-X 1, which would allow the carrier's delivery in September 2013, rather than around March 2014. CVN-X 1 would replace the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) after 52 years of operation. The Navy planned to spend roughly $2.54 billion on CVN-X development and another $7.48 on production, which would start in 2008.

In October 2002 advocates were successful in restoring critical funding for the construction of the CVN-X. Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis secured $160 million to focus on the construction of the CVN-X carrier, helping to move the construction date back to 2006 and saving jobs that could have been lost if the construction timetable was put off. The funding was contained in the FY03 Department of Defense Appropriations Conference Report. "This is great news for the Peninsula, area workers and our Armed Forces," said Davis, who was successful in getting $160 million for the CVN-X. Davis' lobbying and work secured the funding that was added in the Procurement Subcommittee's markup on the defense budget this Spring. The White House budget called for a one year delay in the start of CVN-X construction, the future aircraft carrier slated to be built at Northrop Grumman, from 2006 to 2007. The move would potentially cost the shipyard 1,000 jobs and potentially hampered US Navy capabilities.

By November 2002 the Pentagon was considering two CVN-X options. One plan would cancel the CVN-X 1, which would use the hull of the Nimitz-class carrier and cost about $10 billion. Construction on the CVN-X 2, a more advanced ship with a new hull design and $11 billion price tag, would start in 2009, not 2007 as planned for CVN-X 1. The Navy's plan would cancel the CVNX-1, but start CVNX-2 in the same 2007 time frame slot.

The Naval Sea Systems Command initiated an assessment in 2002 of the CVN(X), the next-generation nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, as required documentation for a programmatic milestone decision to determine whether the shipbuilding and supporting industry sectors were capable of meeting CVN(X) requirements. The study found that Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) had the industrial and technological capabilities necessary for the CVN(X) program but had moderate risk regarding its ability to hire and retain sufficient skilled electricians, machinists and pipe fitters to meet the projected increase in workforce requirements. The study found that twenty-eight companies were capable of supporting CVN(X) requirements. The propulsion shafting sector received a moderate risk rating because 90 percent of the capability in this sector lies in one manufacturer. The auxiliary deck equipment sector received a moderate risk rating due to financial viability concerns for the current supplier; however other suppliers are available to meet Navy requirements in this sector. The Navy and NNS were addressing the potential shortage of skilled workers.

The Navy has adopted an evolutionary design approach for future carriers, beginning with the CVN 77 as a transition ship and retains the Nimitz-class hull form largely unchanged through at least CVNX 2.

Innovations for the next-generation aircraft carrier include an enhanced flight deck with increased sortie rates, improved weapons movement, a redesigned island, a new nuclear power plant, allowance for future technologies and reduced manning. Other features of the CVNX being proposed by ONR include real-time damage detection and dynamic magazine protection.

CVNX-1 will feature a new design nuclear propulsion plant leveraging three generations of submarine reactor technology. The requirement for a new nuclear propulsion system reflects a need for a reduction in manning, maintenance, acquisition, and life cycle costs. This new powerplant will enable CVNX-1 to meet the large-scale electrical demands predicted for 21st century shipboard technology. A new electrical generation distribution system will also be a critical feature of the CVNX design. This feature will result in immediate warfighting enhancements in several areas:

  • Survivability. A redundant grid electrical system will enhance damage control features. Electrical auxiliary systems will require reduced maintenance and allow the ship to utilize all generated electric power more effectively than the current design, where the carrier cannot always efficiently access all power available.
  • Availability. Reduced maintenance and greater reliability will enable CVNX-1 to have a greater availability in reduced shipyard periods.
  • Flexibility. The advanced electrical features of this new powerplant will allow for the rapid reconfiguration of CVNX-1 to utilize advanced technologies, as they become available.

The tentative goals with CVNX-1 will also include a further reduction in operating costs and manpower requirements from CVN-77.

CVNX-2 will be the culmination of the evolutionary carrier design program started with CVN-76. Key features of CVNX-2 will include an electromagnetic aircraft launching system that will have reduced manpower and maintenance as well as lower wind over deck requirements for aircraft launch and recovery. This system will also extend aircraft life, as peak loads on the airframe will be reduced. This design utilizes technology similar to that used by European rail systems to propel ‘bullet’ trains. The benefits will be freeing the catapults from dependence on ship-generated steam, as well as an increase in available energy and a major reduction in both weight and volume. Consideration had been given to an internal combustion catapult that would utilize a combination of JP-5 and an oxidizer to propel the launch assist mechanism. A drawback to this system was the separate storage and piping systems required for the oxidizer, as well as the drain on JP-5 resources. CVNX-2 will be designed with modular architecture and systems that are reconfigurable to provide operational flexibility. CVNX-2 will have an advanced armor system to improve her combat survivability. Commercial systems will be adapted for use in ship operations, habitability, mooring, and maneuvering. An advanced weapons information management system will automate the process of weapons inventory control, weapons movement, and weapons deployment from the magazine to the aircraft. The long-term goals with CVNX-2 envision additional reductions in total operating costs and manpower requirements.

The Navy remained committed to a 21st century aircraft carrier utilizing advanced technological applications. The goal is to create a sea based tactical air platform that not only retains the warfighting relevance of the NIMITZ class, but also is designed with architecture for change. This approach will allow the Navy to take advantage of maturing technologies that not only enhance warfighting capabilities but also provide opportunities to reduce life cycle costs. While this new ship will be the most advanced sea-based aviation platform ever deployed by the Navy, it will be an evolutionary progression of the current NIMITZ design. CVNX will have stealthier features than current carriers but will not be a completely stealth design. The stealth wave piercer design seen in speculative drawings is definitely not the shape of things to come.

By early 2003 the CVNX (aircraft carrier, nuclear, experimental) program had been restructured to place as much technology as possible on the lead ship, now called the CVN-21. New propulsion plant, electric catapult, reduced manning, improved survivability and more efficient flight operations are the keys to this new carrier, planned to be available in the 2011 period. CVN 77, which will replace USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) in 2008, began construction in 2001. CVNX 1, which will replace USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in 2013, was initially scheduled to begin construction in 2006. In fiscal year 1998, CVN 77 initiated the design process necessary to accomplish the technological changes planned for CVNX. The ultimate result of these design efforts will be a carrier class that has not only substantially lower life cycle costs, but also a significantly improved warfighting capability to successfully accomplish a wide range of future missions in what is rapidly becoming an increasingly uncertain world.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:43:51 ZULU