I think we're going to have to agree to disagree here. Because I don't think it requires any special foresight for the Navy to be told in the late 60s that they aren't going to get all the funding they want to build enough super carriers to meet their mandated carrier levels. And given the option of either extending the service lives of the Essex class with a FRAM/SLEP or building new, light carriers like the CVV, they'll go with the Essex every time in the hope that a new Congress will approve enough funding for more big decks.I think that level of foresight and budget is not in keeping with retaining an Essex, it's more in line with buying a 2nd Nimitz sooner and keeping the FDR.
In my mind keeping an Essex is a last ditch decision that has to be done with stretching existing, crappy stuff out well beyond it's regular US service life, because all the better decisions have fallen over.
But in the meantime, they'll have to plan on operating the Essex for another 15-20 years once they exit the dockyard. It doesn't take a genius to know that the Crusader doesn't have twenty years left and that the Tomcat has no hope of ever flying from those decks. That leaves the Phantom. You're telling me that the Navy would be too stupid to buy more Aircraft/convert more aircraft to equip those decks "for reasons?"
And the Phantom was far from "crappy" even in the late 80s. Hell, it didn't go out of production in the US until 1979. In the timeframe we're taking about, the late 60s thru the mid to late 80s, there were only two operational aircraft that I would say are definitively better than the Phantom: the Eagle and the Tomcat. Everything else the Phantom is at least on the same level as them.
The way I see things shaking out, the Navy will be forced to retain at least 4 Essex class in service as CVAs. With possibly a fifth with the understanding that at least one of the class will pretty much always be unavailable, so the 5th hull can be a "floater" covering for ships in refit. That's at least 4 attack wings. You're telling me that the Navy is just going to ignore eight fighter squadrons and say, "fuck em, they get what they get?"