New Small Aircraft Carrier Unlikely, Admiral Says As US Navy Begins New Assessment
Air warfare chief: “I believe the L-class ships operating with the F-35B fit that bill.”
The U.S. Navy likely has no need to add a proposed small-deck aircraft carrier to its existing amphibious assault ships, a top admiral said Tuesday ahead of a formal review of the concept.
“I believe the L-class ships operating with the F-35B fit that bill,” Rear Adm. Gregory Harris, who leads his service’s air warfare division at the Pentagon, said during a virtual Navy League event Tuesday. “Others would disagree and that's OK. I think the beautiful part of any study is that it'll take the most current data.”
L-class ships include the Wasp- and America-class amphibious assault ships (LHDs and LHAs).
Trump administration officials had championed the idea of smaller, non-nuclear powered carriers as a cheaper, agile and more lethal way to project power in different parts of the world. In October, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced a naval roadmap that raised the question of buying smaller light carriers as a way to further distribute forces.
And in December, the Navy’s most recent 30-year shipbuilding plan said that “capability concepts like the light aircraft carrier (CVL) need to be further refined to fully illuminate their potential to execute key mission elements in a more distributed manner, and to inform the best mix” of future nuclear-powered and light carriers.
The Navy is preparing to launch a formal review — called an analysis of alternatives — that will look at options for a light aircraft carrier and the type of ship that replaced the Ford-class, the never class of supercarriers.
“We did just finish a Ford study — an extensive one — that looked at over 70 hull forms before it settled on Ford,” Harris said. “And I would say that the majority of that study is still very valid. Some of the mission sets may have changed slightly.”
The study, which is expected to begin next year, will look at anticipated threats at the time the new ships enter the fleet.
“It'll be good for us to do that,” Harris said. “But I'm confident that over the long run, we'll find that there's not a compelling return on investment to make a smaller carrier just as a result of the speed, station keeping, the air wing that you would put on top of that carrier, and the ability to have the fuel for the air wing and for the carrier and perhaps the surface combatants that are moving forward with that aircraft carrier.”