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Carrier Alternative Weekly

February 25, 2010

Artist conception of proposed U.S. Navy medium-sized aircraft carrier (CVV) circa 1976. Reducing the size and cost of carriers would enable navies to afford adequate naval planes in adequate numbers.

Giant Empty Decks

The already greatly shrunken carrier airwing will soon go to sea even smaller, according to the Navy. Here is Chris Cavas at Defense News:

Each U.S. Navy strike fighter squadron will lose some of its 10 or 12 aircraft between deployments – one of several details emerging about the service’s plans to ease an upcoming shortage of strike fighters.
The so-called fighter gap is coming as older F/A-18 A through D-model Hornet aircraft reach the end of their operational lives, not enough new E and F Strike Fighters are built to replace them and production of the later F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) lags…

Navy Hornet squadrons already have been reduced to 10 aircraft per squadron. Super Hornet squadrons flying E and F models generally have 12 aircraft each.

Very impressive 100,000 ton ships, with 5000+ crewmen, and the ability to load up to 90 warplanes maybe more, going to sea far below strength. Where is the logic in that? This is the admirals fault for not planning ahead, and taking into account smaller, even stable budgets. Neither have they taken advantage of new technology, which in the past few decades would have lessened their dependence on large decks.

The tide of history and excessive costs is increasingly against the supercarrier, yet they are still in denial.

*****

You Ain’t Got Not Planes, I Ain’t Got No Carrier

India has the opposite problem than the US Navy. they have the planes but not the ships, yet, according to Indian Express:

The lethal Russian-made MiG-29K maritime fighter planes, which will be based on Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, were formally inducted by Defence Minister A K Antony on Friday, further strengthening the Indian Navy’s air arm.
“With induction of MiG-29Ks, coupled with the future inductions of aircraft carriers, our Navy’s capability will see a quantum jump,” he said during a ceremony here.
The MiG-29Ks are planned to be deployed on under- construction Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov which is likely to be inducted in the Navy by 2012 and an air defence ship being built at Kochi defence shipyard by 2014.

Maybe the two navies can get together and solve their carrier woes. Or is that Britain I hear calling?

*****

Outstanding Quote

Speaking of Empty Decks, here is Eric L Palmer proposing to buy Super Hornet Block IIFs for the USMC:

This would also help fill the deck of big-deck carriers, there-by making the Navy’s big deck carriers appear less like an empty parking lot by the 2020s.

*****

Carriers for COIN?

While most of our wars since the end of the Cold War have been  low tech, counter-insurgencies, Britain is seeking to  become a first-rank naval power with the production of American style aircraft carriers. Andrew Rhys Thompson for ISN Security Watch posts some questions:

While in Britain the high upfront cost as well as the projected life-cycle expenses of the carriers have led to some public debate and even discussions in the government, among policy analysts and academics the discourse has centered around the issue of how utilitarian the carriers would be in low-intensity conflicts or for countering asymmetric threats.

“The question arises: Should Britain continue to devote scarce resources to traditional ‘force projection’ material, such as aircraft carriers, or should it focus on providing the equipment necessary to wage counterinsurgency operations?” Dr Alexis Crow from the London School of Economics commented for ISN Security Watch.

Logically it would seem that you build forces as you fight, but maybe that is just me.

*****

Using Airpower, Sparingly

It is hard not to notice how a handful of land based fighters based on the British Falkland Islands have helped diffuse a crisis situation this past week. After some initial belligerence from Argentina over offshore oil rights, including some talk of a naval blockade she is totally unable to enforce, the government there has backed down on its military threats. It has chosen instead the diplomatic route of going to the UN, or low tech cyber attacks on a Falklands’ website.

Even the head of the Royal Navy Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope is satisfied with the situation, as stated in a recent speech:

“It is a question of matching the forces that we have with the threat that is there. Since 1982 we have built a massive great runway, we have placed forces on the ground, we have sophisticated early warning systems. It is a completely different package.”

The frugality of the defense there seems to throw cold water on the admirals insistence that only 65,000 ton, $5 billion American-style aircraft carriers could ensure proper protection of the Islands. They were not needed in 1982, and even less so in 2010 considering all the alternatives to large decks.

*****

Teaching the Navy to Swarm

John Arquilla wants to see a networked USN, rather than a concentrated one. From the Financial Times:

A networked U.S. military that knows how to swarm would have much smaller active manpower — easily two-thirds less than the more than 2 million serving today — but would be organized in hundreds more little units of mixed forces. The model for military intervention would be the 200 Special Forces “horse soldiers” who beat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan late in 2001. Such teams would deploy quickly and lethally, with ample reserves for relieving “first waves” and dealing with other crises. At sea, instead of concentrating firepower in a handful of large, increasingly vulnerable supercarriers, the U.S. Navy would distribute its capabilities across many hundreds of small craft armed with very smart weapons. Given their stealth and multiple uses, submarines would stay while carriers would go. And in the air, the “wings” would reduce in size but increase in overall number, with mere handfuls of aircraft in each. Needless to say, networking means that these small pieces would still be able to join together to swarm enemies, large or small.

Someone has been listening!!

*****

Hope & Change Comes to the Navy?

David Axe thinks so:

Over the past nine years, the Army and Marines have evolved from the industrial-style forces that fought the Cold War and 1991’s Operation Desert Storm, to become outfits more tailored to wage protracted counterinsurgencies involving significant humanitarian initiatives. That meant adding troops, mothballing heavy equipment and emphasizing language and cultural training. But while the Army and Marines transformed, the Navy hardly changed at all. Its centerpiece forces remained its large aircraft carriers.

Until now. The rise of Somali piracy, the growing popularity of “partnership” missions in Africa, Latin America and the South Pacific, and the naval response to the Haiti earthquake seem to have awoken the sea service to the importance of reform. A strategy document published in January underscores the Navy’s growing commitment to waging “irregular warfare” alongside the Army and Marines. Pottenger’s sailors represent the vanguard of a “new” Navy focused less on hardware and more on people.

The massive firepower offered by the aircraft carrier is increasingly less effective in this age of asymmetrical warfare. The few powers which might threaten us with similar weapons are themselves vulnerable to the proliferation of cruise missiles and stealthy submarines by rogue states. Columbian drug submarines are now being produced at an estimated rate of 75 a year and could easily be turned by terrorists into the ultimate suicide weapon at sea. The vulnerability of our Big Ships to suicide bombers was dramatically on display in 2000 with the bombing of USS Cole in Yemen.

Instead of a naval strategy dictated by the availability of a Carrier Strike Group, the fewer larger vessels should submit themselves to smaller, more numerous craft, which in so many cases can perform the same type of soft power and forward presence required in this modern age, at a drastically lower price tag. Forward based, these squadrons would watch and wait, while interacting with friendly merchant shipping, deterring any threat from piracy or illegal smuggling in the world’s littorals. They would be the light footprint used to great success on land in Iraq by General Petraeus and others to the detriment of Al Qaeda there, and potentially against their counter-part in Afghanistan.

*****

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. B.Smitty permalink
    March 3, 2010 10:33 am

    Mike,

    Have most of our wars since the end of the Cold War really been counter-insurgencies? Desert Storm certainly wasn’t. Allied Force wasn’t. The opening stages of Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom definitely weren’t.

    Our involvement in Somalia during the Task Force Ranger period arguably was. The present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are.

    Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti wasn’t COIN and wasn’t an MCO. Neither was Operation Infinite Reach (strikes in Sudan).

    I haven’t gone back through the complete list of operations since the end of the Cold War, but so far it’s 5-3 in favor of major combat operations over counter-insurgencies. Did I miss any?

    In fact, the vast majority of military operations have been peacekeeping, humanitarian, disaster relief, embassy security, or personnel evacuations from conflicts.

  2. February 27, 2010 11:03 am

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    thanks for digging that out!

    tangosix.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 27, 2010 9:07 am

    Tangosix wrote a detailed comment which mistakenly ended up in the Spam Folder (happens sometimes right Scott?). It is right here:

    http://newwars.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/carrier-alternative-weekly-12/#comment-13497

  4. D. E. Reddick permalink
    February 25, 2010 9:22 pm

    Tangosix,
    Joe,

    I’ve had the same sort of problem with WordPress. Whenever I write something long or involved I copy it into WordPad or some other text editor – before submitting it. That way I still have what I intended to post (just in case).

    Also, using the return / go back feature of your browser may allow you to find your ‘attempt’ at a post still residing in a buffer of the browser which preserves the composition window provided by WordPress. Wait awhile and try again. Or, edit content and pay especial attention to URLs which WordPress might not like. There are some links / URLs that have never worked for me when I’ve attempted to post to New Wars. I suspect that WordPress has some unusual word filters in effect.

  5. Joe permalink
    February 25, 2010 8:54 pm

    Tango,

    (hoping this makes it through…) I too wrote a long-ish reply earlier only to have it gobbled up. Apparently, you and I have been invited to dinner, so to speak.

  6. February 25, 2010 8:37 pm

    Hello Alex Mk.2,

    you would have enjoyed that one even more,I even quoted you!
    Unfortunately I don’t have time to write it all again.

    tangosix.

  7. Alex Mk.2 permalink
    February 25, 2010 8:06 pm

    T6, Sorry to hear that; I enjoy reading through your often lengthy contributions!

    – Alex.

  8. February 25, 2010 5:59 pm

    Hello,

    is WordPress playing up again?
    I have just spent an hour writing a long reply but it did not show up when submitted!

    tangosix.

  9. February 25, 2010 5:39 pm

    Hello,

    Mike Burleson said:

    “The already greatly shrunken carrier airwing will soon go to sea even smaller, according to the Navy.”

    I have just read that article,it did not say anything at all about reducing the size of carrier wings.
    It did say that aircraft were being taken from reserves and non deployed squadrons in order to maintain the strength of the carrier wings.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Very impressive 100,000 ton ships, with 5000+ crewmen, and the ability to load up to 90 warplanes maybe more, going to sea far below strength. Where is the logic in that?”

    Spending ten years and thousands of millions of dollars designing and building a smaller aircraft carrier which will be in service for the next fifty years is not a sensible response to a temporary shortage of aircraft caused by delays in the F35s development.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “This is the admirals fault for not planning ahead, and taking into account smaller, even stable budgets.”

    The admirals did plan ahead,the problem is that the development os the F35 did not go to plan.
    The United States Navy’s budget is not shrinking,it is getting bigger:

    http://www.finance.hq.navy.mil/FMB/10pres/10Press_Brief.pdf

    Dr Alexis Crow said:

    “The question arises: Should Britain continue to devote scarce resources to traditional ‘force projection’ material, such as aircraft carriers, or should it focus on providing the equipment necessary to wage counterinsurgency operations?”

    Guerilla warfare involves allowing your enemy to invade and occupy your terrain and then spending years or even decades trying to persuede him to leave by inflicting many small losses.
    Having to engage your enemy in guerilla warfare is clearly an undesirable proposition.
    Any nation would prefer to defend it’s territory by means of a quick conventional victory.

    Those countries which do not have conventional military superiority have no choice but to resort to guerilla tactics.
    In order to fight against insurgent forces,British forces must first be able to acheive conventional military superiority to defeat the conventional forces of their enemy.
    Only then can they conduct counterinsurgency operations.
    Thus a counterinsurgency force is of no use at all to a nation which cannot generate conventional military superiority over it’s opponents.

    Military strength is directly related to economic strength.
    As the United Kingdom’s economy is growing more slowly than those of many other nations so it is in relative economic and hence military decline.
    Thus the number of nations which have conventional military parity (or superiority) with the United Kingdom is increasing.
    Consequently the likelyhood of British forces facing conventional military threats is going up and the probability of British forces facing guerilla insurgencies is going down.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “It is hard not to notice how a handful of land based fighters based on the British Falkland Islands have helped diffuse a crisis situation this past week.”

    There was no crisis situation in the Falklands this week.
    If Argentina had wanted to invade the Falklands,they would not be deterred by a fighter force too small even to defend it’s own airfield.
    The Typhoons are in the Falklands for the same reason the token land and sea forces are,as Alex Mk.2 said:

    “the four aircraft aren’t there to defend the islands from attack, it’s a political maneuvre, they’re there to fly the flag and demonstrate British intentions to defend the islands should they be under threat.”

    Mike Burleson said:

    “After some initial belligerence from Argentina over offshore oil rights, including some talk of a naval blockade she is totally unable to enforce, the government there has backed down on its military threats.”

    Argentina never made any military threats.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “The frugality of the defense there….”

    The Falklands garrison is hardly frugal,it costs more than an aircraft carrier.
    To quote a parliamentary question from 22nd of February 2010:

    “Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the total expenditure under the defence budget of the military presence in the Falkland Islands since 1982; and what estimate he has made of such expenditure in (a) 2009-10 and (b) 2010-11. [317591]

    Bill Rammell: The costs from 1982-83 to 2008-09 (outturn figures) for the Falkland Island are as follows:

    Financial year £ million
    1982-83
    780

    1983-84
    637 (391)

    1984-85
    644 (403)

    1985-86
    572 (396)

    1986-87
    402 (236)

    1987-88
    229 (118)

    1988-89
    102 (59)

    1989-90
    68 (60)

    1990-91
    66

    1991-92
    72

    1992-93
    58

    1993-94
    67

    1994-95
    66

    1995-96
    70

    1996-97
    81

    1997-98
    76

    1998-99
    72

    1999-2000
    71

    2000-01
    143

    2001-02
    115

    2002-03
    120

    2003-04
    111

    2004-05
    113

    2005-06
    143

    2006-07
    65

    2007-08
    67

    2008-09
    70

    From 1983-84 to 1989-90 you will note two figures are available. The higher figure includes garrison costs, the cost of replacing capital equipment lost and residual campaign costs associated with the Falkland conflict. The lower figure reflects just garrison costs.

    There is some variation between years caused by what categories of expenditure were included. For example, in recent years figures do not include military equipment, military personnel pay, service children’s education facilities, estate works and maintenance, IT and communication, maritime visits or air charter. Costs associated with these activities are met by other top level budget holders. The MOD’s core budget is separated into eight top level budget holders (TLBs), each responsible for delivering individual military objectives. Within these TLBs the budget is not routinely allocated in terms of regions, but in terms of categories of expenditure. To provide the level of detailed breakdown of these categories in relation to the Falkland Islands would be of disproportionate cost.”

    By way of comparison,the direct operating cost of a Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier is ecpected to be about £50 Million a year.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “…seems to throw cold water on the admirals insistence that only 65,000 ton, $5 billion American-style aircraft carriers could ensure proper protection of the Islands.”

    Which admiral said that?
    Certainly not Royal Navy Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope who said,to quote your own post:

    “It is a question of matching the forces that we have with the threat that is there. Since 1982 we have built a massive great runway, we have placed forces on the ground, we have sophisticated early warning systems. It is a completely different package.”

    It would be a very strange thing for a British admiral to say as the Royal Navy is buying $3,700 Million cheap to run conventional carriers not expensive to operate nuclear powered “$5 billion American-style aircraft carriers..”.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Columbian drug submarines are now being produced at an estimated rate of 75 a year and could easily be turned by terrorists into the ultimate suicide weapon at sea.”

    Suicide submarines were tried by the Japanese in the Second World War,they were a massive failure,even against ships at anchor.
    Today they have even less chance against naval vessels designed to deal with modern submarines and torpedos.

    tangosix.

  10. February 25, 2010 1:32 pm

    There is buying submarines. And there is being able to use them.

  11. February 25, 2010 1:29 pm

    “I do wonder wether just FOUR Typhoons and a thousand personell would be enough if Argentina managed to pull off an all out surprise attack.”

    Man for man UK forces are still ahead in terms of training. What most countries call special forces equal in ability the recce platoons of the average British infantry regiment.

    Over the last decade or so the RN and RAF have put greater emphasis on small arms training.

    I hope it won’t come to shooting.

    What keeps this going is the general ignorance of people about history, geography etc.

  12. Alex Mk.2 permalink
    February 25, 2010 1:27 pm

    William, They definitely pose a threat and could prevent the SSN from attacking Argentine warships, SSKs make great patrol/escort submarines but hunting outside of he litterols they’re sitting ducks for nuclear powered adversaries and wouldn’t be able to neutralise the threat of TLAM attack.

    – Alex.

  13. William permalink
    February 25, 2010 12:58 pm

    Alex, My mistake. I thought that Venezuela had purchased some Kilo subs, but it turns out they never completed the deal.

    Venezuela does have two type 209 subs though. I would have thought the Venezuelan subs combined with Argentinas subs could pose a threat to a single RN SSN on its own though.

  14. Alex Mk.2 permalink
    February 25, 2010 12:37 pm

    Mike, you are aware CVV designs were only 30-40m (110-140′ in old money) shorter than Nimitz, they were still over 60,000T, It’s long been an opinion of mine that ships of this size make the most efficient aircraft carriers, long enough to support full-size cats and traps, short enough to be used with a great deal of flexibility

    William, Venezuela will not be able to purchase Kilos without it becomming international knowledge and the ARA have a couple of submarines 1 209 and a 2 of similar class, HMS Sceptre (Assuming you’re talking about the submarine in the theatre at the moment rather than the submarine force as a whole) may well be the oldest vessel in the Royal Navy but to suggest SSKs of similar age have the edge over her in the blue water is an insult to the submarine service and SSNs to say the least especially considering the vast wealth of knowledge of Submarine/Anti-Submarine warfare of the Royal Navy. Aside from that if it was to come to blows Beunos Aires sourcing military support would undermime their argument aswell as increasing the risk of alienating NATO and her member states.

    Had developments preceeeding ’82 not been ignored an attack wouldn’t have been a suprise no nation will make the same mistake twice, RAF Mount Pleasant has the facilities to support a full Squadron of fighter aircraft and with the support of RAF Tristars can be transported to the airbase overnight and this would happen before there is any chance of hostilities occuring, the four aircraft aren’t there to defend the islands from attack, it’s a political maneuvre, they’re there to fly the flag and demonstrate British intentions to defend the islands should they be under threat. to constantly maintain a force at RAF Mount Pleasant to defend the isands would be a waste of resources (unless you can find a spare Tiffy Squadron, 2 Nimrods, 2 more tankers, 2-3 more Hercules and a Sentry; I was going to outline ground and naval forces aswell but it took up most of a page)

    Large STOVL Carriers not needed in 82? Certainly not, the whole point of having a large(medium sized) carrier is ruined by then not including cats and traps, however a CATOBAR carrier would’ve saved many lives (and ships), SHAR + Sidewinder was a great combination but can’t compare to Phantom + Skyflash supported by Gannet AEW… it’s common knowledge that Argentine forces were regularly resuplied, that wouldn’t have happened with longer range, high speed fighters with longer ranged missiles on station! It’s not the carriers that have cost the RN her large escort fleet it’s a change in strategy, vastly increasing prices and a defence budget 35% of that in 1982 (5.7% vs 2%), the cost of building 2 QE class carriers rather than 2 modern vincy-esque successors wouldn’t even cover the cost of T45 7&8 (not saying CVF project wasn’t poorly managed, carriers the size of QE should be able to support 20-25% more aircraft and she’s hopefully slow; whoever heard of carriers that can’t manage 30kts?) the cost of the Aircraft argument is a non-starter, only half of the aircraft will be owned by the RN ergo the SHARs are being replaced 1:1 as are RAF Harriers

    – Alex

  15. papa legba permalink
    February 25, 2010 12:04 pm

    William said: I do wonder wether just FOUR Typhoons and a thousand personell would be enough if Argentina managed to pull off an all out surprise attack.

    Possibly not, but there’s a big difference between saber-rattling and a Taranto- or Pearl Harbor-style sneak attack. If you go into every international engagement expecting a Pearl Harbor, you’re going to exhaust your budget and wear your equipment (and men) out very quickly.

    On the Argentinian side, pulling off a coordinated, all-out sneak attack demands a level of logistical expertise that they have not demonstrated. In fact, the two attacks I mentioned were managed by forces that were already at war, well-trained and well-practiced. Even if the political will was there, I don’t know if the Argentinian military has the experience to manage it.

    So instead, the Brits deploy enough forces to deter a military adventure on the Argentine’s part. A few Typhoons and a detachment of troops make the Falklands a tough nut to crack– it’s enough to turn the area from a soft target into a major undertaking.

  16. Jed permalink
    February 25, 2010 11:58 am

    Mike said: “The frugality of the defense there seems to throw cold water on the admirals insistence that only 65,000 ton, $5 billion American-style aircraft carriers could ensure proper protection of the Islands. They were not needed in 1982, and even less so in 2010 considering all the alternatives to large decks.”

    Dude – nothing about turning the Falklands into a garrison is FRUGAL – perhaps a UK reader could try and find some old budget statements on how much it cost to build Mount Pleasant, how much it costs to keep an infantry battalion stationed there etc.

    A carrier, available when needed is always going to be cheaper in the long run, because it is more flexible and could be used for other things -and I don’t care if its a 65K tonne CATOBAR or a 30K VSTOL carrier, any carrier is more flexible and cheaper over 25 years than an island garrison mostly sat on their arse doing nothing.

  17. William permalink
    February 25, 2010 8:42 am

    Land Bases work if they are sufficiently well resourced/equipped.

    I do wonder wether just FOUR Typhoons and a thousand personell would be enough if Argentina managed to pull off an all out surprise attack.

    A couple of extra Typhoons could make all the difference, as a safety margin – “Oh for the want of a Nail”.

    If the Argentines were clever they could time their attack with the (secretly arranged) arrival of Venezuelan Kilo subs to neutralise the RN SSN.

  18. February 25, 2010 7:20 am

    Wars amongst the people are fought on the land. Oddly that is where most people.

    The sea is an alien environment and to live there and move about in that element requires technology (ie ships.)

    In the UK we have the army to fight on land. And the navy to fight in the sea.

    Though the UK is fighting in anti-terrorist/anti-insurgency conflicts at the moment that doesn’t mean this will be the only type of conflict we will fight in the future.

    As man turns to the sea for resources we will need navies to protect (and win?) them.

    The Chinese, Indians, Brazilians etc. recognise this.

    There is more to war than terrorists, pirates, etc.

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  1. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — February 26, 2010 « Read NEWS
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