Originally created 05/28/98

Navy scaling back research on futuristic carrier



WASHINGTON -- The Navy is slowing research on a futuristic aircraft carrier and focusing for now on high-tech improvements to the 30-year-old design of its Nimitz class warships, officials said Wednesday.

The change does not affect plans to build the latest Nimitz class carrier, known as CVN-77, beginning in 2001. The Clinton administration has asked Congress for $125 million in its fiscal 1999 budget to begin work on that vessel, which was to have been the last of the Nimitz-class nuclear warships.

The Navy has 12 aircraft carriers, a number reduced by two since the mid-1980s due to post-Cold War budget pressures.

The futuristic carrier, dubbed the CVX, was to have been produced by 2006.

As work on the CVN-77 progressed, the Navy had planned to spend about $3.2 billion over a number of years to design the CVX.

But given expectations for flat shipbuilding budgets over the coming years, Navy leaders are looking to reduce that amount, said one Navy official familiar with the planning. No specific number has been determined, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The means to achieve our CVX goals are under review but must proceed in a pace that is affordable in today's fiscal environment," Navy spokesman Lt. Chris Sims said in a statement.

"The Navy's goal for CVX remains unchanged. We are committed to a revolutionary design for our 21st Century carrier force which will meet the requirements of the future and will be more affordable to operate than the current Nimitz-class carriers," the statement said.

Artists' concepts for the futuristic warship showed a vessel with a low profile to help it avoid enemy radar. It also was to include a radically different power source.

The new ship will still make much more use of electric power, such as in the catapult system that flings planes from the carrier's deck, the source said.

Since the Nimitz class was commissioned in 1975, all carriers have been nuclear-powered. But the price of nuclear power is high, such as the expected $5 billion cost of the CVN-77.

Therefore, the CVX was planned as a more affordable ship to design, produce and maintain over its life-cycle.

It also was supposed to rely on a much smaller seagoing population, a major cost on a warship that carries up to 7,000 men and women in its crew and air wing.

The official said the Navy still intends to spend "a significant amount" on research and development for the CVX, and that it is may well retain the hull shape of the current Nimitz-class ships.

Last October, the Navy canceled plans for its missile-launching "arsenal ship," citing budget pressures and lack of congressional support.

That ship was envisioned as a low-lying, flat-decked vessel that would be fitted with scores of square hatches, each concealing some sort of guided or cruise missile to attack targets on shore. It was to have employed stealth technology and carried a small crew of 50, but the concept did not garner support on Capitol Hill since it would have drawn funds from other ship or aircraft programs.