In order to achieve the optimal 16 carriers, argued by some, the White Paper, page 10 recommends:
"The Navy should also pursue a new “high/low mix” in its aircraft carrier fleet. Traditional nuclear-powered supercarriers remain necessary to deter and defeat near-peer competitors, but other day-to-day missions, such as power projection, sea lane control, close air support, or counterterrorism, can be achieved with a smaller, lower cost, conventionally powered aircraft carrier. Over the next five years, the Navy should begin transitioning from large deck amphibious ships into smaller aircraft carriers with the goal of delivering the first such ship in the mid-2030s."
The "large deck amphibious ships" in question most directly mean the 45,000 ton America class designated Landing Helicopter Assualt (LHA) ships which are already dedicated to air assets (no landing craft or well deck). The airwing is frequently helicopters/Ospreys carrying Marines and up to 20 F-35Bs.
Modifications would presumably mean angled decks, catapults for F-18s and F-35Cs, and arrester cables. This may make them updates of the 45,000 ton Midway class carriers built in the 1940s (when Senator McCain was in his early teens).
Problem the conversion to traditional CATOBAR carrier would render the effort in of developing the STOVL F-35Bs wasted. This might mean only a handful of F-35Bs would be used by the US thereby shifting the fixed development costs to the main remaining users - the almost complete specialised for F-35B UK Queen Elizabeth class carriers to $300 million each levels.
- “...the number of aircraft carriers is irrelevant if there is a shortfall of Navy strike aircraft...Over the next five years, the Navy should therefore procure 58 additional F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets and 16 additional EA-18G Growlers, while continuing to procure the F-35C as rapidly as possible, to fill out ready and effective carrier air wings that can meet joint requirements."