The United States has already begun working on future aircraft carriers; we have tested several prototypes of these future aircraft carriers on land, in and around the Chesapeake Bay, while many more are in the works—all to help maintain America’s maritime hegemony.
In the last ten years, America’s aircraft carriers have been used in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Odyssey Dawn, Operation Unified Response to the BP oil spill, and to maintain a global US military presence. In the coming future, America’s aircraft carriers will maintain a global US military presence as it has been since the end of WWII.
There is much anticipation around the United States Navy's plan to expand its aircraft carrier force fleet once more after years of contracting and delays to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program to meet budgetary realities associated with the sequester and the drawdown. As a result, many experts are predicting a resurgence over the next decades for the Navy and perhaps other military operations over what will likely be another 30 to 45 years of service from the Navy's aging carrier fleet.
The question, which has been debated and analyzed in the media since the 2010s release by the U.S. Navy of a conceptual aircraft carrier design to replace the Nimitz-class carriers, is: “What kind of carriers will those carriers fleet replacements be?”
As of November 2013, the Navy decided to put out a Request for Information (RFI) in the first quarter of 2014 to solicit ideas and offer comments from stakeholders on its plans for what it will need to fund and construct its future fleet of carriers. This solicitation is the next step towards building up the carrier force after the 2010 Navy vision of what it will need in 2040. While only the Navy knows exactly what it has in store for the future, let's examine the known designs currently being proposed for fleet replacements.
The question of how we might end up with carriers in the future is something of a red herring; the Navy has repeatedly stated that the replacement vessels would come in two forms or families: a smaller and nuclear-powered carrier that could accommodate the new F-35 fighter, and a larger more capable non-nuclear variant that could accommodate all the carriers the Navy has now.
The Navy has already begun construction of the first nuclear-powered light aircraft carrier by Northrop Grumman since the 1970s to serve in the carrier force; the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). The early 2020s with the next two carriers of the Gerald Ford-class, CVN 79 (CVN 80) and CVN 81 (CVN 82). Two of the nation's two remaining nuclear-powered super carriers each feature the same CVN-79/81 hull shape. However, neither carrier in current use serves as the flagship for a country, like the other nuclear carrier USS George Washington and the conventionally powered CVBG John C. Stennis serve.
Nickol, C. L. (1997). Future naval aircraft and aircraft carrier design: A study of aircraft/ship interface. Naval Engineers Journal, 109(3), 299–309.