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Pentagon Budget: Analysis shows future need for 12 aircraft carriers, US Navy leadership acknowledges

The US Navy warns that new carriers like the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) may not enter the fleet fast enough to maintain an 11-carrier fleet. (Michael Fabey)

Although the US Navy (USN) force of 11 aircraft carriers meets existing operational requirements, studies show a need to add another ship to accommodate future requirements, according to USN officials.

That acknowledgement comes in the wake of earlier USN warnings that the number of carriers could dip below the current 11 carriers in the coming years, while the service's long-term shipbuilding plan notes a possible further reduction in a bit more than two decades.

“Over time, the analysis shows [the navy needs] 12 carriers,” USN Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Michael Gilday told members of the US House Armed Services Committee (HASC) during a hearing on 11 May.

Asked again how many ships would be needed to meet current and future operational requirements, Adm Gilday reiterated, “At least 12.”

He added that the proposed naval fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget proposes 11 carriers till 2039.

“Beyond that, it goes to 12 carriers,” Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told HASC members during the same hearing.

Both officials agreed that 11 carriers meet current needs, even to counter China.

In April, however, USN officials noted that the carrier force could dip below the federally mandated 11-carrier force in the coming years.

Jay Stefany, acting assistant navy secretary for Research, Development and Acquisition, and Vice Admiral Scott Conn, deputy chief of naval operations for Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities, said the dip could come as Nimitz-class ships retire and Gerald R Ford-class carriers enter the force.

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