Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
The U.S. Navy may not buy any more Ford-class aircraft carriers, the acting Navy secretary said recently, revealing that the service is already thinking about what comes next.
“I don't know if we're going to buy any more of that type,” Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told Defense & Aerospace Report's Christopher Cavas, adding that the Navy is “certainly thinking about possible other classes.”
The USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of the new class of flattops, is going through post-delivery tests and trials, USS John F. Kennedy is 70% complete, construction has started on the USS Enterprise, and material is reportedly being procured for the Doris Miller.
The last vessel is expected to be delivered in 2032.
“I think we have a duty to look at what will come after the Ford,” Modly told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, adding that the Navy has some “breathing room” before it has to figure out what exactly will come next.
The Future Carrier 2030 Task Force, which is yet to be announced, is expected to take six months to study how Navy carriers hold up against new threats from Russia and China, Breaking Defense's Paul McLeary reports, citing sources familiar with the planning.
Those sources said the study could have significant implications for future carrier design and development.
It is unclear if these plans will survive the transition to a new service secretary. The White House formally announced Friday that it was nominating Kenneth Braithwaite, the current U.S. ambassador to Norway, to serve as the next secretary of the Navy.
Changes to the carrier fleet could also face pushback within the Department of Defense or from Congress, as was the case with the Navy's plans to retire the USS Harry S. Truman two decades early.
Still, Modly has suggested that supercarriers may no longer be the way to go as the Navy considers the future force.
“The big question, I think at the top of the list, is the carrier and what's the future going to look like,” he said at a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments event in late January.
He lamented the cost of the Ford-class carriers, the first of which has topped $13 billion, as well as the increased vulnerability of Navy carriers as adversarial powers develop more capable weapons.
“I think we agree with a lot of conclusions that [carriers are] more vulnerable,” Modly said, adding that “we are developing all kinds of things to make it less vulnerable, but it still is a big target.”
“And it doesn't give you that distribution,” he said.
In addition to future carrier considerations, the Navy has also been looking at alternatives to carriers to augment the force, especially given the Navy's problems meeting demand for carriers and the need for a more distributed force.
Richard Spencer, the former Navy secretary, said in October that smaller flattops like amphibious assault ships, which the Navy and the Marine Corps have been outfitting with F-35Bs to create experimental “Lightning Carriers,” were one “great” option.
Breaking Defense suggested that future carriers might be smaller than the large Ford-class supercarriers but would still be larger than an amphibious assault ship.
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