House moves to boost aircraft carrier fleet

by Travis J. Tritten

The Navy would be able to buy aircraft carriers more quickly and increase its carrier fleet from 11 to 12 under 2018 budget plans being written by the House Armed Services Committee.

The legislation unveiled by the committee Tuesday calls for a new carrier every three years rather than the current pace of one every five years, and would order the service to maintain a dozen of the ships after 2023.

The plans will be rolled into the committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which will set defense policy and priorities for 2018, but any sped-up acquisition of carriers will depend on future funding from Congress, according to committee staff.

Staff briefed the press on the legislation but did not provide funding levels, which will be disclosed when the bill moves to the full committee.

The Senate is also hashing out its version of the NDAA bill over the coming week, and any differences with the House will require negotiations later this year.

The Navy just accepted delivery of the Gerald Ford, the first in a new class of carriers, and is set to reach a fleet of 12 by 2023, when the John F. Kennedy, the next Ford-class carrier, arrives.

The House legislation would mandate that the fleet remain at that size.

However, the larger carrier fleet will only be a “blip” and soon return to 11 as other older ships are cycled out unless the Navy can increase the rate at which it buys the carriers, House Armed Services staff said.

“The only real way to get to 12 and stay at 12 is three-year centers,” said a committee staff member, who spoke about the legislation details on the condition of anonymity.

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