Winston Churchill once remarked: “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” The recent history of the Navy’s large-deck nuclear-powered aircraft carrier programs underscores Churchill’s perspicacity.
President Jimmy Carter had been in office a few months when he declared war on defense spending. Ominously for the Navy’s carriers, the administration affirmed President Gerald Ford’s decision to cancel the Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)—the fourth Nimitz-class carrier—and buy instead two smaller, oil-fired “Tentative Conceptual Baseline” (TCBL) carriers. During the following 18 months, the TCBL/CVX design morphed into the smallish (65,000 tons full load) vertical/short takeoff and landing support carrier (CVV). Carter vetoed the Fiscal Year 1979 DOD authorization bill, because Congress inserted CVN-71 funding. However, the Iranian hostage crisis changed his mind, and Congress funded the Theodore Roosevelt in FY80.