CVN 78 – The New Class of Carrier

Interesting artist rendition of the new class of US aircraft carrier on the Navy News this morning. Those of you who are familiar with carrier design will recognize most of the changes, and for those of you who do NOT, that’s what the Pinch is here for!


Newport News, Va. (June 30, 2006) – Artist Rendering – A conceptual rendering of CVN 78, the first of a new generation carrier design, CVN 21, for the US Navy, underway at Northrop Grumman Newport News. Construction is slated to begin in 2007. U.S. Navy Illustration courtesy Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding (RELEASED)

The link to the Navy high-res version is here. There are some significant differences and improvements to the design when compared to the existing fleet of carriers, and to save bandwidth here on Murdoc, I’ll discuss some of these changes with some zoom-ins of the particular changes over on the Instapinch.

In a nutshelll, though, we need a new carrier because the capabilities and requirements of the 21st century airwing has outgrown the capabilities of the current NIMITZ design to effectively support it. Oh, we’ve upgraded the carriers as much as we can through Service Life Extension Programs (SLEP) and major overhauls (the NIMITZ class carriers are starting to reach their 25-year nuclear-fuel refueling limits, with NIMITZ and EISENHOWER completed and now VINSON in the drydock – these are 3+year evolutions), but there is only so much you can do when constrained by the physical design of a ship.

For example, the F-35, the Joint Strike Fighter, will have something called the Autonomic Logistics System (ALS) built into it where the pilot, upon returning from a mission, can send a burst data-link transmission of aircraft health data back to the ship. This will provide the maintenance wrench turners and planners a huge leg-up on turnaround maintenance that may be needed for the aircraft, having parts and maintenance ready to go as soon as the aircraft lands. However, you cannot just simply send this data-link transmission to the ship when you consider the myriad other data-link and electronic transmissions and requirements that the ship currently needs, and you cannot just simply hang new data-link receivers all over the boat. So, building this capability into a new design builds on and sets the table for future aircraft capabilities.

Again, more will be over on the Instapinch later today – if I can drag myself out of the pool on this beautiful pre-July 4th Saturday holiday weekend!


  1. Nice, I read what you wrote on your blog. I’m sold on the concept. But the $64b question is how much of a boondoggle the development/procurement process is going to be, and how many times over budget it ends up. I’m sure Dfens would like to vent at this point, so I’ll leave him some room:

  2. Its gonna be pricey, that’s for sure. The technology alone to make sure those electromagnetic catapults work to the 99.9999% reliability factor that is needed when you are talking about tens of thousands of catapult launches every year will be eye watering. I know its a trite phrase, but one really has to look at the return on investment with this thing. The last commanding officer of the current carriers hasn’t even been born yet, so this new class needs to be designed and built not only for our children, but for their’s as well.

  3. Shipmates, Interestingly enough, if you have the technology to make the magnetic catapult system, then you can also use that same tech to produce a weapons system, IE: a rail gun. Lots of folks currently working on that very concept, and it has HUGE potential upsides. You could also consider using fibre optics for ALL internal communications and data transfer, since that would defeat any EMP damage from a nuke. Lastly, whilst we seem to be stepping into the near-term sci-fi tech (in other words, what’s actually possible) you might consider using pulsed-power lasers for secure air/ground comms while in the pattern. Cuts down on the emt signal splaying out into the ether, and lowers the detection threshold of the bird farm. Respects, AW1 Tim

  4. You blog in a pool? (sounds awful)How does that affect the battery life of your laptop?

  5. heh…technology at its finest? No…actually I just *drift* in the pool. And since there is that behemoth of a post over on the Instapinch, I *did* manage to get out and get some blog work done. Pinch

  6. Converting to all fiber optic will not render the ship immune to EMP. While the individual lines would generally not be effected – you still have transmitter and regenerator components to take into account. Additionally, from a damage control standpoint, fiber optics have some issues. That said, they are infinitely better then copper. In general this looks like a good design. My star trek side wants a eject the nuclear core option (So it would not take 3 years to refuel the bloody thing.) . One could make an argument that a super carrier is just a super target, but who knows. I did here that there was plans to install reactive armor on the carrier. I hope that is not true or tather I feel sorry for the poor squid that has to maintain the armor.

  7. Shipmates, James wrote: ‘Converting to all fiber optic will not render the ship immune to EMP. While the individual lines would generally not be effected – you still have transmitter and regenerator components to take into account’ True enough. There will always be a portion that will need sheilding of some sort, and the bundles do come with their own headaches, but I do think it’s a step ahead of where we are now. I like the nuclear propulsion part, but I have never understood why the entire reactor module can’t be made as a ‘drop in’ section to facilitate recoring/refueling. Yeah, it’s BIG and HEAVY, but with the modular construction being done today there’s no reason why a seperate module couldn’t be created and dropped in, saving a year or more in the refuelling process. But then, perhaps that’s too simple an engineering concept….. As to pulsed laser comms, the Navy was playing around with them 30 years ago. I got to see that system, and it was pretty neat. It allowed for secure voice transmission between aircraft without breaking radio silence and worked pretty well. There were some distance limitations, and the troubles with new technology (it was bigger and gormier back then) but with today’s tech, it should be much lighter and expansive in the usefelness envelope. Respects, AW1 Tim

  8. Very nice design. I do miss the input from the Gator Navy though: nowadays with the move to the ‘littorals’ (coastal and inshore waters) I would’ve expected more facilities for an embarked marine force, since all USN groups are supposed to be full-dimentional (sea-air-land) Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs). As I understand it current Nimitz class carriers are carrying a company-sized marine detachment (with helos) on a regular basis. With the LHA(R) becoming more like a fully-fledged mini-carrier instead of a floating boatyard – it gave up its amphibious abilities in favor of more aircraft hangar space – I kind of expected more ‘Green’ on this ‘Grey’ design. Still one awesome piece of mobile power.

  9. There isn’t much inherit to the layout that justifies its cost over the existing carriers. Radars, beacons, and fiber optics of various sorts can be added to existing ships for far less cost than building a new hull. The way I see it, that’s the other down side to the way we buy things. We were told that when the contractors started making profit on development they would be free to innovate. In practice it has been just the opposite. The lack of any commercial incentive has caused them to do very little innovation and drag out development to maximize the non-recurring cost, because that’s where the best money is. I noticed they’ve gone with signature reducing lines on the new vessle? Did Pinch cover that on his site? Sorry, I’ve been on vacation and haven’t been reading much. Notice how the lines match up similar to the way they do on stealth aircraft. If they didn’t have all those cluttered masts sticking out everywhere and those stupid F-18’s on the deck it would be a nice design. Too bad they didn’t take it all the way and set up to do launch operations on the lower level and only do recovery on the top deck. That would be the sort of thing which really would justify the cost of a new carrier. Such is the Navy today, I suppose.

  10. Dfens, that’s a pretty damn awesome idea. I wonder if there are any big problems with it. Clearance is an issue, but the carrier could be made a bit taller to make up for it. I think it would be worth it. Not having launches interfere with landings would be a *big* win, plus, aircraft that landed could be moved down, worked on in a hangar, then moved across to the launch area.

  11. Nice design to say the least. I’m a old Navy carrier crewmember, specficly the USS America CVA-66 which by the way was sunk last year by our OWN navy. She was sunk to further develope weapons and to see what it takes to SINKEX a carrier. We (the Carrier Vets of America) are trying in vane to get the next carrier named the America for her sacrafices for future carriers. From what has been said, it looks like they are going to name the next one G. W. BUSH and GERALD FORD..,much to our dismay and disgust!! The SECNAV used to name the ships being commissioned but now it looks like ‘politics’ name ships….Check out our site Write your congressmen and senators. We need all the help we can get. Got Bless everyone who has served or is currently serving. We (the Vets) are behind you all 100% Sid SM3 USS America CVA-66 72-76

  12. IMO making a stealth carrier is a prescription for tacking on billions and getting a limited return on investiment. The RCS of a current carrier is measured in the millions of square meters. A carrier inheritly will have large surfaces set at 90 degrees. Lower deck launches – a la battlestar galatica is a interesting concept, but I fear it would be impractical. If for no other reason then it would kill hangar space. Personally – I’ve always wanted a trimarian hull, with the deck surface area width increased by 50% or so.

  13. I won’t kid you, Nicholas, there are all kinds of problems with my idea. It would require a complete rethink of the way carrier operations are handled to begin with. Typically, of course, aircraft are maintained below. They might have to add a 3rd deck for maintenance which would squeeze room for other things. Also, shipbuilders don’t take too well to ideas that include putting a hole that lets water in on the bow or stern. I think you could get around that by employing a ski ramp for the lower deck launch system, but some sort of deflectors or doors might be necessary too, because you definitely don’t want sea water coming in and rearranging everything. The deal is, it’s hard to justify having stealth aircraft when you’re telegraphing the location of their launch platform. Most of stealth is obtained by the physical configuration of the vehicle. If you’re going to reduce the signature of a carrier, you’ve got to get the airplanes off the deck. The best stealth for a ship is to make it submersible. If you’re not going to do that, you’ve got to at least go to a 2 deck launch and recovery system. Even a submersible would need to trap on the top surface unless it used all VTOL aircraft.

  14. Wouldn’t the biggest problem with second deck launches be airflow? I always understood that they turned the ship into the wind for launches because without the extra 15-30 knots of airflow the ship put over the deck (and thus the wings of the aircraft) there was a real danger of stalling on launch.

  15. Pinch, ‘The last commanding officer of the current carriers hasn’t even been born yet…’ Maybe not. My son is 9 months old. I could find a way to make peace with him being a squid, but his mother would take alot of work.

  16. The airflow is helpful when you’re flying, but doesn’t do anything for you when you’re on the catapult. At that point, it’s just adding some unneeded drag. They’d lose a lot fewer airmen over the side with a lower launch deck.

  17. Dfens – Yes aircraft on the deck of carrier boost its RCS. That said, a 4 1/2 acre highly reflective surface of a flat top does wonders for a carriers RCS. Not to mention a carriers infrared signiture (a lower deck launch system is going to have serious issues with heat and ventilation.) From a safety issue – a lower deck lanch sounds like a prescription for blowing up the ship. That said, rock on!

  18. Shipmates, Actually, you don’t have to open the bow to launch from below decks. You could simply use angled ctas, the way an angled deck already works, and launch aircraft from both port and starboard catapults angled off the centerline, abaft the bow. Similar to how modern subs launch torpedos. Catamaran hull and wider decks make for an easier maintenance and spotting solution. Putting the cats below decks makes a heck of a lot of sense, and means that the upper, or landing, deck, needn’t be angled either, thus saving space. Putting the cats aft the midships would also allow for forward elevators to lower a/c to the hanger decks for maintenace, and place the cats closer to the ship’s power source as well. respects, AW1 Tim

  19. Excellent points, Tim! I was thinking too conventionally. The front portion of the launch deck could then be used for aircraft storage and maintenance. I like the catamaran idea too. Stability can only be a good thing for a carrier.

  20. Everyone seems to be missing the point here. The politicians are lining up to stick their names on these great ships. Even the most midiocre of them gets his name put on a ship. There isn’t one politician in Washington DC that deserves to have his name put on CVN-78 BEFORE the name of our country. Ex-AMERICA was intentionally sunk on May 14th 2005 for the purpose of making the new carriers stronger. That sacrifice alone should be enough to get her name put on CVN-78. Congress, specifically, Senators Warner and Levin have added an ammendment, SA 4211, to the Defense Appropriation Bill for 2007 calling for CVN-78 to be named the USS Gerald Ford. This can not be allowed to happen. Congress should not be in the ship naming business. As soon as they pick one name, it automatically angers others. On our web site is a list of Senators and Reps. who will be on the committee to iron out the differences between the two versions of the bill. Call them and ask for their support in removing SA 4211 from the bill. Once accomplished, we can then go back to SecNav for the naming which is the way it should be. The only name that works on what will be the mightiest ship in the Navy is USS AMERICA CVN-78. Thank you for your support. Walt Waite Vice President USS AMERICA Carrier Veterans Association

  21. First let me say that I fully support the idea of naming CVN-78 USS America. Call me old fashioned, but USS George H.W. Bush sounds like a transport ship. Mighty warships should have great names. On to other things. The concept of a lower ‘flying off deck’ for launching aircraft was actually tried in the early days of CVs. A number of Japanese and British ships experimented with the idea and could even launch aircraft off two or more decks at the same time. For example, the HIJMS Akagi and HIJMS Kaga originally had three flight decks. The idea was not considered a success, and all these ships were converted to the single flight deck configuration. Contrary to common belief, an aircraft carrier size catamaran would have unfortunate stability problems, mostly due the moment arm of such a wide beam. However, back in the seventies naval architects working on a cruise liner came up with the idea of using a ‘modified tunnel semi-catamaran hull’ with a single bow and twin sterns. Syd Mead in his book Sentinel has drawings of the original catamaran design and the modified design. I also have an issue of Naval Institute Proceedings from the eighties I think in which a naval officer proposed the idea of an ‘Ultra-carrier’ of 150,000+ tons with the island placed on centerline and angled decks port and starboard (compare USS United States CV-58, c. 1949). I’ll try to cite this better in a future post. What I found interesting here was he had the aircraft elevators covered by the island and armoured. With six shafts and nuclear power, he saw this ship as seldom entering port, with crew changes and resupply taking place under way. Now combine the semi-catamaran hull with the ultra-carrier concept and all the stuff from CV-21, and see what kind of mental picture that conjurs up.