Details of the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget have emerged, and carrier construction likely will be a major controversy. The Defense Department is looking to reshape military forces for great power conflicts, and the Navy had several viable approaches for adapting its carrier force to the new defense strategy. Instead, it opted to avoid a decision and will waste billions of dollars as a result. Funds for shipbuilding are too scarce to waste. It’s time to make a decision about carriers.
The Navy’s fleet is built around a small number of extremely expensive but powerful carriers. The carriers themselves cost approximately $13 billion. When the embarked air wing and escorts are included, the cost rises to more than $30 billion.1 Paying that bill and the associated operating and maintenance costs dominates the Navy’s budget. For that large cost, carriers provide immense capability that has ruled the seas since 1941. In crisis after crisis and in regional conflicts from Korea to Afghanistan, carriers have proven their usefulness.
1. Estimated carrier strike group cost is based on FY 2020 budget or latest available information as follows: carrier $13 billion, plus 6 x DDG-51 @ $1.9 billion each = $11.4 billion, plus 80 aircraft (F-35, F-18E/F/G, E-2D, MH-60R/S, HV-22) at various costs = $8.4 billion, grand total = $32.8 billion.