- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

The Navy has won a budget battle within the Pentagon to build its futuristic aircraft carrier, and is now negotiating when the first big-deck CVNX can be constructed.
A meeting was scheduled this morning between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and top Navy officials, including Navy Secretary Gordon England, during which the CVNX's construction schedule could be decided.
The CVNX has been viewed as a vulnerable program that might be canceled by the Pentagon in favor of smaller, faster ships as it seeks to transform the armed forces.
But defense sources said yesterday that key Rumsfeld aides have agreed to fund the next generation of supercarrier to replace Nimitz-class ships now at sea. With the future of big-deck carriers now assured, the debate is over the timetable.
There are two main options. Some Pentagon civilians want to cancel the first ship, the CVNX-1, which will use the hull of the Nimitz-class carrier and cost about $10 billion. Construction on the CVNX-2, a more advanced ship with a new hull design and $11 billion price tag, would start in 2009, not 2007 as planned for CVNX-1.
The Navy has countered with a different plan. Cancel the CVNX-1, but start CVNX-2 in the same time slot 2007.
Navy officials, and the shipbuilding industry, argue that the two-year gap in carrier construction at the Northrop Grumman yard in Newport News, Va., would cost the government a significant amount of taxpayer dollars to preserve the work force.
One defense source described the industry's thinking this way: "They believe you are going to destroy the industrial base if the Pentagon does not build a ship in '07. They won't be able to reconstitute the base."
The Navy also argues that the CVNX's advanced technologies are the kind of advancement that Mr. Rumsfeld seeks in transforming the military.
The CVNX will have a new nuclear power plant, improved electrical generation, a smaller, stealthier superstructure and a new system for launching and recovering aircraft.
The CVNX-2 is to have these features, as well as a more modern hull, a better flight deck and manpower savings of about 800 from a 5,000-sailor crew.
With the schedule moved to 2007, the Navy is not sure it can develop a new hull in time.
The Navy's 12 big-deck carriers are backbones of the fleet, leading battle groups that include attack submarines, surface combat ships and 70 aircraft. The Navy feared the Rumsfeld team's push to modernize and transform the armed forces could result in killing the CVNX in favor smaller, less-observable ships.
Defense and congressional sources said another factor in the Pentagon's decision to save the CVNX is political fallout on Capitol Hill. They believe the CVNX retains support from a majority of lawmakers, and a decision to kill it would be met with fierce opposition.
The Pentagon is now writing the 2004 budget and plans to present President Bush with his most significant decisions to date to meet his goal of reshaping the military for newer threats, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Pentagon officials want most decisions made by the end of November so Mr. Bush can be presented with options in December. The budget would go to Congress early next year and take effect Oct. 1, 2003.
Besides the CVNX, Pentagon analysts are looking at whether to cancel or curtail the Army's Comanche helicopter, the Air Force's F-22 stealth fighter and the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey aircraft.


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