Could it happen?
Opting for either of the large nuclear carriers described by RAND probably wouldn’t result in too drastic a change for the Navy. Not so for the two smaller, conventionally-powered carriers. “The conventionally-powered alternatives we looked at—the two smallest variants—would, if selected as replacements for the Nimitz class as these ships reach service life, significantly impact Navy operational concepts,” Martin said. “This is primarily because they lack the ability to support an integrated air wing. They could generate some portion of the strike and defensive counter air sorties required in campaign plans, but they would have to rely on some off-ship alternative for other capabilities (airborne early warning and C2 in particular) now provided organically.”
The bottom line of a new study on U.S. aircraft carriers: you can’t get something for nothing.
The Navy can buy smaller, cheaper carriers rather than the $ 13 billion Ford-class behemoths it is currently constructing, according to a new study by RAND Corporation. But smaller and cheaper means reduced capabilities, and could prevent the Navy from fighting in hostile waters or providing the air support for ground operations.
The RAND study is a public version of a classified study conducted in 2016 at the behest of the U.S. Navy, which was ordered by Congress to examine cheaper options than the Ford-class carriers.
RAND looked at four options:
– The CVN-8X: A slightly stripped-down version of the 100,000-ton Ford-class carriers. It would be powered by forty-year nuclear reactors that couldn’t be replaced, rather than the current twenty-five-year reactors on the Fords that can replaced to extend the life of the ship. It would also be equipped with three rather than four catapults.