The debate over the future of the aircraft carrier continues hot and heavy in the pages of Proceedings, the halls of the Pentagon, and the corridors of the U.S. Capitol.1 But whereas during the Cold War the debate principally centered on the potential vulnerability of carriers, today the principal issues are cost and alternative platforms. To a large degree these issues are interwoven.
The CVN-78, the next large carrier, named the Gerald K. Ford shortly before the death of the former President in 2007, will be costly. The previous nuclear-propelled carrier, the George H. W. Bush (CVN-77). is costing about $7 billion: the Ford's cost is estimated at some $12 billion, in addition to about $12 billion being spent for research and development (R&D) efforts related to the design. Thus, the equivalent of two years of the Navy's shipbuilding budget is being spent to develop and build a single warship, although the R&D will be applicable to future ships of the same design.