A comprehensive plan to modernize our aircraft carrier force for the next century is based on a dual-track strategy. This strategy includes the modernization of existing carriers and the addition of new ships to the force, creating a phased replacement plan that maintains essential capabilities and force structure. The "near-term" element of the dual- track strategy is the procurement of the tenth and final Nimitz-class carrier, CVN 77, in FY 2002. Scheduled for commissioning in 2008, CVN 77 will replace the conventionally powered USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) after 47 years of service. CVN 77 will be a "smart" transition ship, incorporating new technologies resulting from research and development efforts that are currently underway.
The second element of the dual-track strategy is the design of an entirely new class of aircraft carriers, now referred to as CVX. CVX is being designed on a "clean sheet of paper," but will retain the core capabilities resident in our carriers today. CVX will feature improved characteristics in selected areas, such as launch and recovery equipment, flight deck layout, C4I systems, information networks and propulsion systems. These ships also will incorporate features that will make them more affordable to operate. The lead CVX will be procured in FY 2006, and will enter service in FY 2013.
Nimitz-class carriers are transitioning from the Engineering Operating Cycle (EOC) to the Incremental Maintenance Plan (IMP). The IMP supports the demanding carrier operation schedule, and also contributes to steadier, less volatile workloads at both public and private shipyards. These new shipyard periods - called Planned Incremental Availabilities (PIA) and Docking Planned Incremental Availabilities (DPIA) - should last approximately six months and 10 months, respectively. Longer availabilities will still be required for some maintenance evolutions. In 1998, for instance, USS Nimitz (CVN 68) will commence a three-year Refueling Complex Overhaul (RCOH) at Newport News Shipbuilding. The later ships of the class will also be refueled and overhauled at regular intervals following the completion of Nimitz's RCOH.
Carrier upgrades and modifications continue to increase the operational effectiveness, technical efficiency, and maintainability of our carrier force. In the area of command and control, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) recently received the CEC system in conjunction with the Advanced Combat Direction System Block 1. Permanent Extremely High Frequency (EHF), Super High Frequency (SHF) including Commercial "C" Band Challenge Athena III, and upgraded Ultra High Frequency (UHF) satellite communication suites provide vastly improved access to information databases worldwide. Link 16/JTIDS, being installed in all carriers, provides a new dimension in tactical information exchange. Numerous processing and display system upgrades will ensure that our joint planners, decision makers, and warfighters in carriers have near real time access to the latest data available.
Radar upgrades continue to increase the reliability of current systems and improve their maintainability and performance in littoral operating areas. Plans are in place to upgrade the aircraft carrier's self-defense weapons mix. AN/SPS-48E radars were recently installed on USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and USS George Washington (CVN 73). The AN/SPQ-9B horizon search radar will replace the currently installed Target Acquisition System. The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile will be the successor to the RIM-7P Sea Sparrow ship self-defense missile system.
In the area of aircraft launch and recovery systems, the Improved Carrier Optical Landing System, which includes the Improved Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System and the Long-Range Line-up System will provide optical displays so that the pilot can make early corrective actions to prevent landing accidents and improve aircraft boarding rates.
Other upgrades of carrier systems are more prosaic, but are also critical to the performance of carriers and their crews. For instance, during a recent complex overhaul, Eisenhower received an additional air conditioning plant as well as upgrades to the chilled water distributive system. These same modifications have also been performed in Lincoln, and are scheduled for USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during their next availabilities.
Aircraft carriers are also being modified to make them more environmentally "friendly." As part of our Pollution Control Program, R12 refrigerant conversions began in FY 1996 on Lincoln; this upgrade will be incorporated on all carriers by the year 2000. R114 refrigerant conversions will take place from FY 2000 through FY 2005. Planning is also underway for the installation of oily water separators and plastic waste processors in all carriers.
These upgrades, and the construction of new ships incorporating emerging
technologies and concepts, will ensure that the United States maintains
a combat-ready carrier force, one that can spearhead the Navy's forward
presence, crisis-response, and warfighting efforts well into the 21st century.