Island Is at Heart of Higher Sortie Rates for CVN 21
By HUNTER KEETER
The island, or superstructure, of the Navy's new CVN 21 aircraft carrier
is at the heart of numerous improvements planned for the ship. The new
carrier, scheduled for launch in 2014, is to have an improved aircraft
sortie rate, a crew that is far smaller than that of the Nimitz-class
vessels, and lower life-cycle costs.
The means to achieve those goals began with a smaller, redesigned island
that is made partly of composites and moved aft, or further back, on the
deck relative to islands of the 10 Nimitz-class carriers. Rear Adm. Dennis
M. Dwyer, program executive officer for aircraft carriers, said the redesign
of CVN 21's island is "the real transformational part of the 'airport'"
operations on board the carrier.
Slimming down the island and moving it about 100 feet aft created space
on deck for the creation of a centralized re-arming and re-fueling location
the Navy has dubbed the "pit stop," after the similar process
in auto racing. It enables the crew to service the aircraft and get them
quickly back into the air for another tactical mission. "That is
the concept," said Dwyer. At present, "we do a lot of ... pushing
planes around the deck and that takes a lot of time. They don't push cars
in a NASCAR race. They drive them into the pit and they get out in 14
seconds. We [could be] doing that."
CVN 21, to be built by Northrop Grumman's Newport News Operations, Newport
News, Va., is the Navy's first new carrier design since 1965. The ship
is expected to last 50 years, and the CVN 21 carrier class of ships will
be the centerpiece of the Navy's expeditionary strike force for more than
100 years. Therefore, the Navy wants quantum improvements in capability
in a hull design that is about the same size as the Nimitz class: approximately
1,092 feet in length; a beam of 134 feet; and a flight deck width of 252
feet. A larger hull would have brought penalties in size and cost. Anything
larger than a Nimitz CVN would have required new, larger drydocks, for
However, CVN 21 will have a new nuclear reactor that produces 25 percent
more power. Steam produced by the reactor will generate three times the
electrical power of the Nimitz, which suffers from chronic overloading
of its electrical generators.
The new reactor and other changes permit substantial reductions in crew
size. Overall, the CVN 21 will have a crew of 2,100 to 2,500 men and women.
The Nimitz crew totals approximately 3,000 personnel. That reduction should
bring substantial cuts in life-cycle costs of the CVN 21, relative to
the Nimitz class, but Dwyer is reluctant to estimate the savings at this
early point in the ship's development.
But the Navy's excitement about the new carrier stems in large part from
the improvement in operations to be derived from the redesigned island
and the airplane 'pit stop' that will generate aircraft sorties of 140
to 160 per day, with a surge capability to 220 sorties per day. The Nimitz's
normal sortie rate is about 120 per day. Ordnance, fuel, and electronic
support systems all will be located at or near the pit stop, eliminating
the need to drag fuel hoses across deck to the planes and push ammo dollies
through long distances on the flight and hangar decks.
On the Nimitz class, "we go through a two-hour cycle and quarter
of a mile hauling bombs throughout the hangar bay and the mess deck"
to get them to an upper stage elevator and onto a deck staging area, said
Dwyer. That made re-arming planes "the long leg" in sortie rates
on the Nimitz.
On the CVN 21, ordnance will moved by robotic devices from the magazines
to re-located weapons elevators and then to "little bomb farms"
near the pit stops, said Dwyer. Thus, re-arming a plane will probably
be measured in "minutes instead of hours."
"We can pull [the aircraft] in once ... and do everything [we need]
to them, and they can cycle right out, get to the catapult and go again,"
As is the case for ordnance, the movement of JP5 aviation fuel around
today's flight decks is a cumbersome process, accomplished by dragging
long hoses from hatches and catwalk stations on deck. The CVN 21 design
would place shorter fuel hoses directly in the aircraft pit. Diagnostic
stations also will be positioned at the pit for maintenance troubleshooting.
In addition, Navy tactics have changed, reducing the number of sorties
flown against most targets. The "whole philosophy of what a sortie
is has changed ... because of technology," said Dwyer. When Nimitz
was designed, carrier air wings included A-4s, A-6s, A-7s, F-4s, and F-8s.
Multiple sorties were then launched to release large numbers of usually
unguided munitions against single targets. Since the 1991 Persian Gulf
War, the strike platforms in the typical carrier air wing have evolved
and now are based on the F/A-18 Hornet series of tactical aircraft. The
ordnance delivered by the airplanes also has changed, and now includes
larger numbers of precision-guided munitions, such as the GPS-assisted
Joint Direct-Attack Munitions series and various laser-guided bombs. Therefore,
aircraft involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, over Afghanistan, and
Operation Iraqi Freedom often engaged multiple targets.
As CVN 21 gets underway, new aircraft will enter the fleet equipped with
advanced maintenance diagnostics capabilities. Maintenance systems aboard
ship will be more sophisticated, mirroring some of the computer and datalink
capabilities in warfare systems centers. For example, the Lockheed Martin
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which enters naval service after 2010, will
send data messages to the vessel, giving maintenance specialists an indication
of what repairs are needed before the aircraft lands on deck.
"This will really help sortie generation rates," Dwyer said.
More advanced systems also are expected to enter fleet service after
the end of the decade, such as the joint Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV)
program. The command-and-control and support requirements for a mixed
air wing of manned and unmanned aircraft aboard would also demand greater
flexibility in the CVN 21 design.
The first of the CVN 21 class of aircraft carriers will be in service
in the fleet until 2064, Dwyer said. In 1965, when the Nimitz was designed,
"could I have ever imagined 2064? The rest of the class goes on after
that, into the 22nd century. So ... we need to be flexible. We have learned
that now." *
Hunter Keeter is a reporter for Defense Daily, a newsletter based in