Committee OKs funds for aircraft carrier

The House Armed Services Committee yesterday did what military shipbuilding supporters have lobbied for by authorizing an extra $86.7 million to make sure the U.S. Navy’s next new aircraft carrier begins development in 2007.

The boost also comes on the heels of the committee’s decision to raise the president’s fiscal year 2006 defense budget request from four ships to seven.
patrick g. ryan
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.)

The additional $86.7 million for the advanced procurement of the Navy’s CNV-21, a new generation of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, comes with a caveat. The Pentagon must certify that the extra money would allow the Navy to begin production of the carrier in 2007 before Congress makes the funds available. The money would be transferred out of defensewide operations and maintenance accounts. The administration’s plans were to start production in 2008. The Navy’s goal is to deploy the carrier by 2014.

The amendment to add the money was introduced by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) as a substitute for one offered by Rep. Jo Ann Davis, (R-Va.), which did not include the Pentagon certification stipulation. The amendment passed by voice vote.

The House panel’s move yesterday came after the Senate Armed Services Committee marked up its defense authorization bill, adding $86.7 million to advance by one year the delivery of the carrier, moving it from 2015 to 2014.

The moves in both the Senate and House coincide with the Navy’s decision to retire the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, thus reducing the carrier fleet to 11. The Navy’s assessment of war plans has shown that 11 carriers would meet commanders’ requirements, Secretary of the Navy Gordon England told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee in March.

He also said that it may be possible that the number of carriers could be further reduced, as the Navy plans to use other, smaller ships that would allow aircraft to take off and land, such as the new amphibious assault ship LHA-R.
The Senate, meanwhile, has directed the Navy to retain 12 aircraft carriers until 180 days after completion of the Pentagon’s sweeping review of capabilities, called the quadrennial defense review, and the achievement of necessary basing agreements for carriers in the Pacific Command’s area of responsibility.

The fear of further shrinkage of the carrier force raised the stakes for carrier advocates in Congress and industry who were trying to prevent a production delay of CVN-21.

Last year, Northrop Grumman Newport News received $1.3 billion for construction preparation on the CVN-21. Innovations on the new carrier, often referred to as the centerpiece of the future carrier strike groups, include an enhanced flight deck, a new nuclear power plant and reduced manpower.

It has been estimated that the cost of the carrier will rise to $13.7 billion, almost double the initial projections, sparking concern among lawmakers that the cost of advanced weapons systems is skyrocketing and that the CVN-21 is unaffordable.

Davis argued that the additional $86.7 million for advanced procurement is necessary to prevent the cost of the ship from further escalating and to ensure that the Navy’s fleet would not drop below 12 aircraft carriers.

The Navy’s budget projection for the years 2006 through 2011 calls for cutbacks in various ship programs, spurring a spirited debate about the future of the Navy’s fleet, which has already been slashed in half since the end of the Cold War.