The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier program’s future still remains a bit unfocused after the release of the Obama administration’s new defense strategy.
The strategy includes references that could imply a greater need for the kind of capability a carrier provides. Plus, soon after the strategy was released, the White House said the U.S. and U.K. had “signed a Statement of Intent on Carrier Cooperation and Maritime Power Projection that will serve as the framework for increased cooperation and interoperability on the use of aircraft carriers, as well as provide the basis for the U.S. to assist the U.K.in developing its next generation of aircraft carriers.”
That certainly seems to bode well for carriers.
Further, defense analyst Jim McAleese says the strategy’s stated priority—to be able to penetrate hard-to-access areas—should benefit carriers. But, he notes, the next-generation CVN-79 will likely experience a two-year procurement delay.
Such a delay could add costs to the carrier program, which would put it under greater scrutiny. As one of the Pentagon’s most expensive programs, carrier procurement has been a target for defense budget-cutters.
Aircraft carriers ranked as the Pentagon’s 16th largest single expense for 2010 with about $2 billion in contracts and modifications, according to an exclusive Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) analysis of contracting data aggregated by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.
It should be noted that the summary of the new Obama strategy refrains from mentioning the carrier, unlike the long-range bomber, which was specifically cited as a need.
Also cited in the strategy was a need to develop greater undersea capability—clearly a plus for submarine programs—and missile defense, which should bolster the need for-equipped ships like the Arleigh Burke Class or other destroyers (Aerospace DAILY, Jan. 6).
“The Virginia-class attack sub and Burke-class destroyer programs look like big beneficiaries of the new strategy,” says Lexington Institute defense analyst Loren Thompson.
That’s especially true, he says, with the Pentagon refocus on China and the Asia-Pacific.
“The Pentagon’s planned pivot to the Western Pacific should be good news for builders of submarines and surface combatants, because those vessels have the capacity to either elude detection or defend against air attacks from China while carrying out diverse military missions,” he says.
“The outlook for aircraft carriers is a bit more clouded given their high cost and the danger of operating such ‘lucrative’ targets near increasingly well-armed Chinese forces,” he says. “Demand for amphibious vessels looks uncertain too, given the waning role of ground forces and amphibious operations in administration plans.”