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Carrier Alternative Weekly

May 6, 2010

Outstanding Quote

We open today with one of the most succinct comments on questioning the need for a large carrier fleet, which I have ever heard. From Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the Navy League on Monday:

Do we really need eleven carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?

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On Sacred Territory

Gates tread on holy ground when criticizing the continued need for a few giant Big Decks in an age that calls for many ships of varied sizes and abilities. It does become harder to justify them when our primary antagonists are speedboat navies such as Iran, or land powers like China who have yet to deploy a single carrier to match our 11. To keep things in perspective, here are the essential points from the Secretary on why the Navy needs to rethink its carrier centric policy in this new era:

  • No other nation on earth has a single ship to match one of our 11 nuclear-powered giants.
  • Because we must plan for the future, spending exorbitant funds on dated technology is a recipe for disaster.
  • Potential adversaries will take advantage of our overwhelming superiority in one area, to strike us where we are vulnerable.
  • Even Third World countries like Iran can take advantage of new weapons “ballistic and cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, mines, and swarming speedboats” to threaten our most powerful warships.
  • Our advantage in precision weaponry is eroding, putting the carriers at further risk.
  • With up to $20 billion invested in building and equipping a single carrier, we risk a great deal by ignoring these new threats.
  • While the need to project power will endure, do we still need 11 aircraft carriers when no other nation deploys similar vessels?
  • Do we need so much investment in a single platform when a single missile might destroy or disable this irreplaceable asset?
  • With so many threats, and so few funds available, we can no longer afford continued spending on multi-billion-dollar platforms, especially if they may be at risk and not needed for most of the roles the Navy performs in this new century.

A Carrier Question

Should aircraft carriers be built to support naval operations, or is the Navy geared to support carrier operations? I will let you ponder that while reading the following post by Donald A. Moskowitz from Stories in the News:

An article in the Navy Times entitled “Strike group mission expands far beyond simple escort” has me concerned.
The aircraft carrier strike group is composed of a carrier and air wing, a submarine, and five or six escort destroyers and cruisers. The escorts protect the carrier by interdicting enemy units attacking the group.
Unfortunately, at times the carrier has only one escort because the other ships are dispersed hundreds or even thousands of miles from the carrier to carry out “patrol missions, exercises and port calls”. An example of this policy occurred in 2008 when the Carrier Theodore Roosevelt visited South Africa while some of its escorts were in the Mediterranean and another escort went to France for a D-Day event.

What is your final answer? I get what the writer is saying here, and he’s certainly correct we have far too few ships. To me the dispersing of the carrier escorts isn’t a disturbing trend, but the sign of the times and advancements in warfare. Soon, this will be the norm, with the carrier having very little to do, their essential but very expensive air support mission replaced by cheaper but equally effective alternatives such as guided missiles, and very persistent long range unmanned aerial vehicles. By this time, every warship will be an aircraft carrier of sorts.

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Are Carriers Obsolete?

Fred Reed at Mens News Daily comes out with both barrels blazing on the Navy’s archaic and unaffordable building strategy:

The carrier battle group, the heart of the Navy, is a hugely expensive way to get relatively few combat aircraft to a remote place. It is a relic of World War II, for which it was well suited. Since it was then fighting similar battle groups, the strengths and weaknesses were more or less matched.
But the Navy has not fought a war for sixty years, certainly not one it needed to win, and it shows. Today’s battle groups, CVBGs as we say, are almost indistinguishable from those of 1945, except for the upgrading of weapons. Instead of five-inch-thirty-eights, we have Standard missiles. Instead of F4F Hellcats, the F-18 Hornet. Yet the carrier is still the Mother Ship, protected by screens of cruisers and destroyers, with interceptors flying CAP. The problem is that the enemy has changed.

And lists some aircraft carrier alternatives:

  • Very fast sea-skimming cruise missiles, such as the Brahmos and Brahmos II (Mach 5+).
  • Supercavitating torpedoes, reaching speeds of over 200 miles an hour.
  • Very quiet submarines, diesel-electrics in the case of poor countries.
  • Anti-ship ballistic missiles, such as the one attributed to the Chinese.
  •  

    But these are enemies of the carrier, not alternatives right? They can hardly match the carrier in presence and sortie rates and bomb loads, all the metrics the Navy uses to justify multi-billion older warships and their equally pricey aircraft and escorts, right? I’ll let Fred explain further:

    Now note that cruise missiles have ranges in the hundreds of miles. Think: Persian Gulf. A cruise missile can be boxed and mounted on a truck, a fast launch, or a tramp steamer. The Chinese ballistic missile has a range of 1200 miles, enough to keep carriers out of aircraft range of Taiwan. I wonder whether the Chinese have thought of that?
    In short the day of surface navies seems to be coming to a close, at least as strategically decisive forces. So does the day of the manned fighter as Predator-style “drones” improve.

    While drones and missiles aren’t as capable as manned aircraft, they aren’t even very cheap, the ability to launch the new weapons from almost any platform makes them far more practical. You could spread capability among the entire fleet, instead of just a few very large targets, in a stroke ending the Navy’s presence deficit with a simple change in strategy. Will the admirals ever get this profound change in war at sea? Will Congress or industry let them, or will it be some future enemy who will seize the mantle of seapower from us?

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    Top Gun Redux

    Strategypage details the return of the Navy’s famed Top Gun training for its pilots:

    The U.S. Navy has refurbished a surplus U.S. Air Force National Guard F-16 flight simulator to help keep its F-16 pilots in shape for using F-16s to train navy pilots (in F-18s) how to best deal with Chinese, and other potential enemy, pilots. The navy uses F-16s because these aircraft are best able to replicate the performance of likely high end enemy fighters. That’s because Russia and China have used the F-16 as the model for most of their latest fighters (the Russian MiG-29 and Chinese J-10). The navy bought 26 of a special model (F-16N) of the aircraft in the late 1980s.

    Here’s a little more info on the planes:

    The navy also uses F-5s to simulate lower performance enemy fighters.

    I always thought this ironic, especially in the 1970s when the air services were justifying huge and costly jets like the F-14, the largest USN fighter ever and the F-15 to fight our enemy the Soviets. Then, they were forced “dumb down” their training using low tech aircraft to teach the superjets how to fight? I see little logic in this, but plenty of reasons why we are still flying ancient planes to war and only can afford a handful of new planes annually.

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    The Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone

    It’s pretty bad that you have to build ships you don’t need just so you don’t lose the ability to build ships you don’t need, or can afford. This seems to be the rut we have got ourselves into with nuclear-powered ships. Lance Bacon reveals how “Carrier builders don’t buy SecDef’s plan“:

    The Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition brought more than 130 members from its 400 constituent companies to Capitol Hill Thursday to urge continued support for the aircraft carrier program…

    We could not find anyone who agreed with Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ 2009 plan that would shift from four- to five-year intervals. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in congressional testimony earlier this year said the move would put carrier procurement on “a more fiscally sustainable path.” This would defer the fiscal ‘12 procurement of CVN 79 by one year and the fiscal ‘16 procurement of CVN 80 by two years — and could create a domino effect as deployments and refueling schedules are adjusted to accommodate.
    The industry leaders Scoop Deck talked to balked at the idea that this would save money. On the contrary, they said the subsequent loss of expertise would likely lead to higher costs.

    Around and around they go. Funny, between 1920 and 1940 the USN enjoyed a battleship holiday, at the end of which we got the marvelous Iowa class battleships, often considered the finest American dreadnoughts ever. I think it would be safe enough to enjoy a similar break from building supercarriers, since we are the only nation who has any, being more powerful than 13 other fleets combined.

    Remember the old theory that we had to have large carriers so they can carry the proper high performance aircraft to protect large carriers? An expensive rut we have got ourselves into.

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    The Aircraft Carrier Trident Replacement

    Nick M at Counting Cats in Zanzibar has a few interesting proposals for Britain’s planned Trident sub replacement. It involves the Storm Shadow cruise missile and, well, I’ll let you read the rest:

    Trident is not the only pachyderm in the parlour… There are also the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers. Now, BAE Systems (again!) are playing coy on whether these will be STOVL or CATOBAR. I say go CATOBAR and buy F-35C not the STOVL F-35B. The F-35B is a masterpiece of design as you’d expect from Lock-Mart but it’s pointless. Its biggest customer is expected to be the USMC and quite frankly a supersonic, stealth strike fighter is of almost supernatural relevance to the grunts on the ground. The F-35 is just not a CAS platform. The F-35B is also limited as to internal weapons carriage and can’t internally tote guess what? Storm Shadow. CATOBAR carriers carrying the F-35C with potentially nuclear-tipped Storm Shadows (two per plane) is the stuff to give this planet’s tyrants and despots the willies.

    Hmmm…Your nuclear deterrent on one or two 63,000 ton flattops? One of the reasons for deploying missiles on subs in the 50s and 60s was the vulnerability of large ships and the short range of naval airpower to strike most targets on land, recalling back then it was all the navy had to launch the A-bomb. This sounds more like a step back.

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    Makes Me feel Good About Myself

    Via Kings of War, comes an interesting theory of the real reasons why China wants a carrier. Calling Dr. Phil?

    Well, suppose you’re in the inferior group as judged by a commonly accepted yardstick. You’ve got some options: suck it up, at cost to self-esteem; compete with the big boys; or reimagine the ways in which you are a state, and in so doing change the rules of the game. You can’t physically change the rather large group that is ‘China’ – because it’s got a pretty strong hold on the imagination of all concerned. But you can shape what it means to be China. You don’t have to play by the existing rules that suit the hegemonic, or dominant group. And indeed there’s both scope and merit in defining yourself differently from others – especially if one conceives of prestige and self-esteem, not power and security, as the overarching rationale for behaviour.

    The Varyag was China’s attempt to play by the big boys rules. It’s a status symbol that says, ‘we’ve arrived’.

     So, it’s all for the sake of appearances. Haven’t the world navies been here before?

    We often insist the large deck aircraft carrier is more of a prestige weapon than an essential requirement for modern navies, much like the all-gun Dreadnoughts were a century ago.

    H/T to Greg Grant.

    *****

    Where are the aircraft?

    The old saying goes, anytime there is a crisis in the world the first thing the President asks is “Where are the carriers”. In today’s world, I think the problem is a bit more complicated than that, but for the most part the saying still goes. Increasingly trouble purchasing adequate planes in sufficient numbers makes us wonder whether the supercarrier will have any teeth to make a difference when it does arrive. Here is Todd Akin at the St Louis Beacon discussing “Aircraft carriers in need of aircraft“:

    It has been said that when word of a crisis breaks out, the first question that comes to mind is, “Where’s the nearest carrier?” The aircraft carrier, 90,000 tons of sovereign U.S. territory, able to project power across the globe at a moment’s notice, is perhaps America’s most enduring symbol of peace through strength. Its credibility as a striking force, however, is contingent on one small detail: Aircraft to go with it.
    In recent weeks, we’ve heard a great deal about the myriad delays and cost overruns of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Recently, the secretary of the Air Force informed the House and Senate Armed Services Committees that the per-unit cost of the Joint Strike Fighter has grown by more than 50 percent from the original baseline cost estimate. Furthermore, substantial delays in aircraft tests have forced the Department of Defense to reduce the rate at which it plans to introduce the JSF into the service’s inventory.
    Meanwhile, the Department of the Navy’s existing fleet of F/A-18s continues to fatigue under an arduous operational tempo, one that is aging our fighter fleet beyond the original design limitation of the aircraft. The necessary retirement of our older F/A-18s combined with the simultaneous delay of the JSF portends a scenario where, for a period of time, we may potentially lack the requisite number of aircraft to support ongoing operations; a scenario often referred to as the “Strike Fighter Gap.” In more practical terms, one might refer to this as aircraft carriers without aircraft.

    The price paid for trying to keep last century building practices alive in a new era of warfare. The fact is, there are three reasons that even superpowers can no longer sustain the construction of large decks:

    1. They are too expensive
    2. They are vulnerable to cheaper, off the shelf weapons and emerging technologies.
    3. They may not be needed at all soon thanks to increasingly smart missiles and UAVs.

    *****

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    29 Comments leave one →
    1. opherben permalink
      May 20, 2010 2:46 pm

      Having flown with the USN as visitor for a year, I have seen previous rounds of battles over “carriers- who needs them”, SES sea trials and what have you. I’m also familiar with latest UAV and missile capabilities. Let me say that no unmanned system can replace an intelligent human at the battlefield, not now and not ever. The carriers used by the USN are true power projectors, although vulnerabilities appear anew. The latter is a reason to retain swift production capability if and when an urgent need arises.
      Without carriers, the USA will become another king in new clothes. The Chinese would love it!

    2. Nomad permalink
      May 9, 2010 3:41 pm

      Gents,

      Let me show an example of the carrier’s flexibility against the rigidity immanent to the subs.
      The Italian VSTOL-carrier R551 GARIBALDI due to the afterwar domestic laws had no ability to have the Harriers as it was not allowed to the Italian Navy to have and use the CVs. There were the helos only onboard and the ship had been classified as “ASW cruiser-carrier” for the first four year since commissioning. Well, similar to the Soviet KIEV-class, the ship had been armed with the antiship missiles Otomat/Teseo. BTW, the Otomat is the only Western missile, equal enough to the Soviet big antiship missiles from the points of the range [180 km] and data-linked targeting prior the terminal active radar homing stage of flight – something between the US Harpoon and Tomahawk. And it make sense dictly in the ship’s destination, as the Soviet SSNs of Project 675 lurking in the Mediterra waters had to surface to fire their missiles. It had been reasonably for Italian carrier to have the weapon to hit such a surfaced sub from the long distance with help of her own helicopter [AB-212] for over-the-horison targeting. Neither flying missile nor this helo were in serious danger to be shot down by the sub’s own AA means. But life goes on and from 1990 the Harriers had become available for Italians, so in 2003 the Otomats left the ship for good, allowing to broad the after part of the deck. The risk of the 675s was over and carrier became the carrier.
      Directly opposite thing had happened in the Russia. Carrier-killers, SSNs of Project 949, had lost their main target: USN carriers aren’t the aims anymore. Main weapon, huge P-700 missiles, that had once determined the sub’s enormous size, is not actual. What can we do? Re-aiming the subs, Russian Navy had armed them with 65-sm perox torpedoes, mighty weapon for those who are properly maintaining them and the real snake in the pocket for those who unfamiliar with them. The KURSK’s crew, unfortunately, had been unfamiliar at all. It is a kind of the foolish thing to force such a big and loud sub to play the role of a silent hunter like USS SEA WOLF or Russian Project 971. But what instead?

    3. Nomad permalink
      May 9, 2010 8:28 am

      Mike,

      No doubts USN Dolphins community is the important part of the Navy, as well as the British subs cluster for RN. But there is the decisive difference at least in WWII affairs – USN and RN subs had performed their tasks properly so far as these tasks were uncommon for all the navies and belonged to the subs only. USN subs in Pacific had good hunt for the Japanese shipping, doing the same that Kriegsmarine U-boote, but such a hunt was not the whole USN’s task, meanwhile for the Kriegsmarine it was. The RN subs had the main important job to terminate the Kriegsmarine’s and Regia Marina’s capital ships and cruisers, and they had solved this problem well, but it wasn’t the main problem for whole RN. Japanese subs, doing the same, had failured. This was the general IJN task.

    4. Mike Burleson permalink*
      May 9, 2010 6:34 am

      “There were two great navies with the subs as a core, namely Kriegsmarine and Soviet Navy.”

      Two others, America and the UK used them famously in WW 2, not as the core of their fleets but in certain theaters.

      Arguably, the US Cold War submarines were key to winning our victory at sea, though the carrier admirals might argue the point.

    5. Nomad permalink
      May 8, 2010 3:27 pm

      No, Mike, no. There were two great navies with the subs as a core, namely Kriegsmarine and Soviet Navy. Look what the operational limitations they both had found out when had formally achieved the numbers and qualities they wanted:
      1. A lone general target. Beyond the SSBNs, must be the only one class of ships or vessels that these subs intended to hunt. Other targets – other subs. They are the warships the least accomodation abilities.
      2. The other navy’s parts could not be harmonized to some proper degree. The surface fleet and naval aviation were becoming the means to support the subs or to support those who are supporting the subs.
      Both limitations are the rows of the highway to the one-way navy.
      So think again.

    6. Mike Burleson permalink*
      May 7, 2010 12:19 pm

      Nomad wrote “carefully estimating these funds it is quite rightly to say that it was no less than US spent for USN in the same period”

      Fair point. It must have been expensive with over 200 nuke subs alone in service, the giant Typhoons and such of the late Cold War, plus about the same number of d/e subs.

      I was speaking specifically of during the world wars. Technically speaking, we never really “tamed” the Soviets subs, but won the war without a shot fired. In other words, the subs’ abilities were never tested in wartime, and there were no giant ASW escort construction program as in the World Wars.

      That was a good thing, of course, but leaves another generation to discover who would be the victor in a future third struggle between surface ship, aircraft, plus the modern submarine.

    7. Nomad permalink
      May 7, 2010 8:29 am

      Mike,

      It seems that the former orator keeps in mind the diesel-electric SSs with AIPs, not so huge and lethal. You know, USSR in 1945-92 had spent about 75% of all the naval funds (carefully estimating these funds it is quite rightly to say that it was no less than US spent for USN in the same period) for the submarine affairs, approx. 10% for the naval aviation and the remainings – for the surface fleet.
      There were several naval bases belonged to North and Pacific Fleets, designed to base and maintain the submarines only. There were several shipyards (the biggest Russian yard in Severodvinsk among them) to build the subs only. In Soviet economics reality there were hundreds of the laboratories and design offices to create the sub designs, machinery and weapon. Nuclear reactors and nuclear missiles testing centers with a lot of the civilian brilliant brains, attracted by the money to prevent them from the running to the business. Enormous training bases with the real (sometimes graved ashore) subs, equipped with running reactors. A millions of involved people. Moreover, there is the deep specifics in the matter of the control of the subs at the sea and to communicate to them and from them. It takes a lot of efforts to build and maintain the specific very low frequency and, oppositely, satellite radio installations, keeping in mind that all these means are almost (if any) useless to communicate to the surface ships or other forces. Taking it all in the account, I’m rather in objections to this thought: “resources spent to tame the submarine are far in excess than the resources to deploy it”. Or I didn’t understand you.

    8. Mike Burleson permalink*
      May 7, 2010 4:25 am

      “The submarine is the weapon of the lesser naval power.”

      In terms of nuke boats, the size of a WW 2 light cruiser, the speed of a destroyer, with cruise missiles the reach of an aircraft carrier. The stealth is unmatched by any other warship and it is invulnerable to cruise missiles, the new decider in surface warfare.

      Historically, resources spent to tame the submarine are far in excess than the resources to deploy it, so like an insurgent at sea. In other words, the sub hunters have far outnumbered the subs.

      I think in this case, less means more. My all means, lets have less naval power!

    9. mark scease permalink
      May 7, 2010 12:51 am

      Nice job of posting comments with an easy and readibly availabe response, mr Burleson.

    10. MatR permalink
      May 6, 2010 3:55 pm

      X: “MatR the Wiseman said…”

      My mum’s paying you, isn’t she? [Furtively:] How much has she said, already?

      I’m my own man, mum!

    11. May 6, 2010 3:18 pm

      MatR the Wiseman said “I’d have preferred to take the tack of lobbing cruise missiles at Argentine military bases or power stations until the Argentines volunteered to go home.”

      I agree. I think I have said here before that we (that UK Plc) should spend £1billion on buying cruise missile each year. (That is 3% of the defence budget as it stands or the cost of the deterrent or about a squadron’s worth of Eurofighter Typhoo) Of course we need platforms to launch them off. But imagine what you could do with a few thousand cruise. That is a deterrent. That is enough to knock out most of a first world nation’s air bases, harbours, barracks, plus other strategic points. It would overwhelm most nations air defences. Getting a few thousand missiles to sea would be a problem, but……..

    12. Nomad permalink
      May 6, 2010 12:04 pm

      Gents,

      Folks keen on the Swedish Navy SS of Gotland-class designed to attack the incoming Soviet amphibious forces, that mostly consisted of the LST-type landing ships. Does USN still have the enormous fleet of LSTs? No, the USN amphibious doctrine is the landing from beyond the horizon. Just say me, what the circumstances might be occured to effectively employ the Gotland-class instead of the HMS Conqueror strictly 28 years ago? The ARA Belgrano speed should not be the 18 but 5 knots? Capt. Bonzo’s destroyers had not determined the steam-roared turbines, so what the profits could be from the silent AIPs?
      Get the Gotland out from the littoral waters and got the useless iron thing in the bluewater war. Does anybody could place the warranty that the bluewater wars are over for good?

    13. MatR permalink
      May 6, 2010 11:50 am

      Egad, don’t trust my judgement! You poor, poor fools…

      If I wasn’t seven at the time, I’d have preferred to take the tack of lobbing cruise missiles at Argentine military bases or power stations until the Argentines volunteered to go home.
      (Being seven, I’d have suggested Superman.) I know a few falklands veterans and the emotional scars they carry are awful.

      Right now, I think it’s easier to simply plan on not losing the Falklands in the first place, and spending a few hundred million on anti-air and antiship missiles as a ‘shield’, and land attack cruise missiles as a dissuasive ‘sword’. In the Falklands, 3000 british citizens are in range of Argentine power, but millions of Argentine citizens (and associated bridges, telephone exchanges, airports, etc) are within range of Tomahawks launched from Mount Pleasant airbase.

    14. May 6, 2010 11:31 am

      The submarine is the weapon of the lesser naval power.

      MatR is right up to a point. But if we hadn’t the carriers in the Falklands we would have lost. Winter would have mitigated the effectiveness of the escorts. Lets face it in real life conflict they weren’t much use; it could be even argued that the Type12 Plymouth and Yarmouth were more use than the other escorts. No carriers, no ARG, no landing!!!

      I would like to see the UK acquire some AIP SSKs as a supplement to the SSNs. But only because we are now a lesser naval power. In fact I will take MatR’s point and say I would rather see SSKs than Type 26s or a new amphib hull. The primary platform for surface based ASW should be the Merlin flown off T45. (How about a stretched T45 with a bigger hanger……?)

    15. Mike Burleson permalink*
      May 6, 2010 11:11 am

      MatR puts things into perspective!

    16. Nomad permalink
      May 6, 2010 11:07 am

      What a nicely hidden confession of the fact that US is lacking the money. It is not simply the business philosophy to cut the fiscal leakages, it is the declaration: the wall that we had equipped with the golden ladders to climb, is wrong.
      Gents, the carriers must be the carriers. Maybe the X-47Bs will be successful at the carrier tests, maybe not. Maybe F-35C won’t be the proper aircraft to fill the gap (that in reality started to appear from the A-6E’s retirement in the end of the past century), maybe China will really create the antiship ballistic missiles (with the piece cost similar to the cost of modern frigate), maybe not. Carriers will be carriers. Do you Americans know what was the main reason of the fact that NATOs Yugoslavian air assaults of 1999 were ever possible and went through without considerably losses? That the Russians, being feeling the real brotherhood to the Serbian, had no means to project enough power against. I.e. they had no carriers on positions in the Mediterra. Isn’t it a wonder that so many clever persons are still beyond awareness of it.

    17. Joe permalink
      May 6, 2010 10:57 am

      Modern-day missiles and torpedoes are a serious threat. You can’t take them lightly as you move forward and past/current defensive systems should be assumed to be inadequate..more work needed.

      But I ask if the existence of surface ships is so threatened, then what shall we do with our underwater fleet when Russia perfects (and shares…with China, Iran, North Korea, etc…the satellite technology to track (and then target at will) our submarines as they are on patrol?

      Subterranean vessels, perhaps?

    18. B.Smitty permalink
      May 6, 2010 10:45 am

      Mike said, “ We do not build carriers to fight other sea powers, but against land powers, principally the Soviet superpower now defunct. Continued excuses that we need them to fight against other land powers, notably land locked Afghanistan rings hollow. These are the world’s most impoverished countries we are in an arms race with, whose definition of power projection is ramming one of our own planes into our power centers.

      And yet they were the primary generators of sorties during the invasion of Afghanistan and a major generator of sorties in Iraq.

      No, what rings hollow is this persistent claim that carriers are “Cold War relics”, built to fight an enemy that no longer exists. It completely IGNORES the “Wars We are Fighting Today”, as well as all of the major wars we’ve fought back to WWII.

      Mike said, “ But if the navy is for projecting power on land, why do we need the army and Marine corps?

      Seriously?

      Mike said, “And if the admirals are fighting land wars, who will keep the sea secure? For that you need a fighting fleet, not just aircraft carriers, as the principle goes “you can’t maintain sea control by battleships alone”.

      You don’t need a fighting fleet to keep the seas secure from maritime threats like piracy. You need a big Global Coast Guard.

      The carrier has proven to be massively effective at wartime sea control. Battleships don’t hold a candle to them in this arena. So this analogy is as flawed as Gates’ “Let’s only be #1 by a Little Bit” fleet sizing plan.

      Mike said, “Currently the entire fleet is geared toward supporting the carrier, but as we see the escorts are needed elsewhere, the giant ships less so. Lets relieve us of this unneeded burden before we sink beneath the $11 billion and rising costs.

      Those escorts are doing precisely squat in the “Wars We are Fighting Today”, other than escorting the carriers.

    19. Mike Burleson permalink*
      May 6, 2010 10:34 am

      Heretic wrote “So long as you’re working from a premise of 3 Patrol Stations, you’re going to NEED to have no fewer than 10 Carriers (11 if you can get them).”

      If supercarriers are the only way to project power from the sea, you are correct. However this overlooks advances in technology since at least the 1970s. Submarines and surface ships can project power using cruise missiles, and destroyers may get extended range munitions to even support land battles.

      Small harrier carriers which the Marines possess are especially geared for supporting the ground battle. Hopefully soon we will see UAVs which ships as small as corvettes can deploy, and with their long-range and persistence, may not even need a launcher, just a nearby land base.

    20. MatR permalink
      May 6, 2010 10:32 am

      Just my own thoughts, but:

      I’d rather have one U214 or one Gotland than one CVN. It doesn’t matter how much firepower the CVN carries, it’s likely going to be toast in a major shooting war. And the way the CVN has shaped the USN, with its massive financial demands, it’s like a millstone around the service’s neck.

      Pretty much, the AIP sub can’t be found. And if a U214 or a Gotland does go down, you lose 30 people. It doesn’t require thousands of crew on half a dozen ships in a carrier battle group, with multiple billion dollar investments. Perhaps trillion dollar, if you count the lifetime cost of all the R&D, design, build, maintenance, salaries and pensions for the crews, ships and planes.

      HMS Conqueror kept the entire Argentine navy in port during the Falklands war after sinking the Belgrano, including the carrier Vienticinco de Mayo. (With less restrictive rules of engagement, perhaps it might have sunk a few more ships.) Nowadays you can buy a similar – if stealthier – capability than Conqueror for the cost of one F22. That’s incredibly cheap sea denial.

      Put it this way: if you’re an enemy of the US and your nation is half decent a) it can afford exocets, mines and AIP subs b) ergo, it’s also wealthy and sophicticated enough to be crippled by a relatively small number of cruise missiles hitting its infrastructure nodes, like power plants, refineries, bridges and ports. You don’t need a CVN carrier battle group to wield a big stick. In fact, you can really hurt an enemy with what the home media will naively assume are ‘bloodless’ pinpoint strikes.

      Most countries don’t want or need to invade anyone. If the US still wants that option in the toolbox, it can keep a few CVNs for ground support once the major shooting stops; but I don’t think most nations require CVNs in order to achieve their own military ends.

      What would you rather have – one CVN carrier battle group, or twenty AIP subs with resupplies of thousands of cruise missiles and torpedos, capable of operating over an entire ocean?

      [Sound of poster running from computer, locking front door, and yelling 'Taxi! Take me someplace safe!'...]

    21. B.Smitty permalink
      May 6, 2010 10:30 am

      Heretic said, “How many more fully stocked, afloat MEUs could the Navy Budget afford if we dropped from 11 CVNs (and escorts, and aircraft) down to 9 (or 8, although I’d prefer 9)?

      Fewer than you’d think. Unfortunately the price per CVN appears to go up significantly when you reduce the number (by lengthening production timelines).

    22. Mike Burleson permalink*
      May 6, 2010 10:26 am

      “We built that many to maintain a constant CVBG presence in several parts of the world, simultaneously.”

      You are correct on that. We do not build carriers to fight other sea powers, but against land powers, principally the Soviet superpower now defunct. Continued excuses that we need them to fight against other land powers, notably land locked Afghanistan rings hollow. These are the world’s most impoverished countries we are in an arms race with, whose definition of power projection is ramming one of our own planes into our power centers.

      But if the navy is for projecting power on land, why do we need the army and Marine corps? And if the admirals are fighting land wars, who will keep the sea secure? For that you need a fighting fleet, not just aircraft carriers, as the principle goes “you can’t maintain sea control by battleships alone”. Currently the entire fleet is geared toward supporting the carrier, but as we see the escorts are needed elsewhere, the giant ships less so. Lets relieve us of this unneeded burden before we sink beneath the $11 billion and rising costs.

    23. Heretic permalink
      May 6, 2010 10:24 am

      Number of Carriers needed = 3 x Patrol Stations + 1 more

      You need to have at least 3 Carriers for each Patrol Station.
      1 deployed
      1 in transit/readiness
      1 in recovery for next duty cycle

      You need 1 more than that to give the overall carrier force a reserve which can go into SLEP or the like for an extended unavailability to allow the remainder to rotate properly.

      One could surmise from this “irreduce-able” requirement that the proper question(s) to be asking is not starting from “How Many Carriers?” … but rather “How Many Patrol Stations?” along with the companion question of “How Fast A Rotation?”

      So long as you’re working from a premise of 3 Patrol Stations, you’re going to NEED to have no fewer than 10 Carriers (11 if you can get them).

      If you’re instead working from a premise of only 2 Patrol Stations (Pacific and Indian Oceans?) then realistically you ought to be able to operate with only EIGHT or NINE Carriers … with each operating on a 4 phase duty cycle, rather than the 3 phase duty cycle outlined above, increasing dwell time at home and relieving pressure on the crews. Of course, that involves reducing the “demand” for CVN “services” in patrolling the seas of the world … which incidentally I see no problem with … so long as the “presence deficit” this adjustment causes results in a greater commitment to the Gator Navy resulting in more amphibious ships being put into the mix, increasing the overall numbers of hulls in the USN, conversely *increasing* the presence and effectiveness of the Navy overall.

      How many more fully stocked, afloat MEUs could the Navy Budget afford if we dropped from 11 CVNs (and escorts, and aircraft) down to 9 (or 8, although I’d prefer 9)? Would doing so increase, or decrease the presence and power of the Navy overall? Would reducing the number of escort ships needed for CVN duties “free up” enough DDG-51s for sea based BMD duties without straining crews and resources?

    24. B.Smitty permalink
      May 6, 2010 9:06 am

      That’s one way to look at it. It’s also a very bad analogy.

      We didn’t build 11 carriers because we were in an arms race with anyone. We built that many to maintain a constant CVBG presence in several parts of the world, simultaneously.

    25. Spade permalink
      May 6, 2010 8:58 am

      That Men’s News Daily article was pretty stupid. I gave up seriously reading it around here:
      “Add to the brew that today’s ships are fragile, based on the assumption that they will never be hit. Go aboard a WWII battleship like the Iowa, BB-61 (I have) and you will find sixteen-inch belt armor and turrets designed to withstand an asteroid strike. Now go aboard a Tico-class Aegis boat (I have). You will find an electronic marvel with big screens in a darkened CIC and an amazing SPY-1 phased-array radar that one burst of shrapnel would take out of commission for many months.”

      Whole lot of derp and lack of understanding there. Maybe we could wrap our phased arrays behind 16″ armor and then they’d be safe. Or we could go back to guns and aiming by eye or scout plane. That’s pretty reliable.

      “Remember what happened in when an Iraqi fighter hit the USS Stark with two French Exocet missile: The missiles worked perfectly, and the Stark’s multitudinous and sophisticated defenses failed utterly. The Navy produced all manner of face-saving explanations.”

      OHPs have always been our most sophisticated ships.

    26. Mike Burleson permalink*
      May 6, 2010 8:52 am

      One way of looking at this Smitty, might be the battleships race of the last century between Britain and Germany, where twice Berlin tried and failed to match the British, but was forced to turn to submarines, and very nearly won on both occasions. That was a type of asymmetric warfare the land power used to subvert the Royal Navy’s overwhelming sea superiority.

      Today, no one is even trying to match the USN in carriers, not in a serious way, so basically we have been in an arms race with ourselves for decades. I realize this works for us, only it is no longer affordable, especially when the high cost is distracting us from other important concerns. Some of these, like the piracy fight, the Navy often belittles or even tries to foster off on the land services. But historically navies have been at the forefront of anti-piracy efforts.

      All Gates is calling for is the USN to get its priorities straight, and in line with current threats as opposed to last century, and build up fleet numbers for the inevitable future conflict.

    27. B.Smitty permalink
      May 6, 2010 8:42 am

      “..since nobody else stealth aircraft..” of course should read ” ..since nobody else has stealth aircraft..”. The coffee hasn’t kicked in yet this morning.

    28. B.Smitty permalink
      May 6, 2010 8:39 am

      Gates, “Do we really need eleven carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?

      So how many do we need? If they are just status symbols, maybe we just need one more than anyone else. We can leave them in port for the most part, and just take them out for a drive every once in a while for photo ops.

      We should probably scrap most of the heavy bomber fleet, surface combatants, and SSNs as well, since nobody has as many as we do by a long shot. B-1s and B-52s look good for airshows, so maybe keep a few around. We can convert the B-2 fleet to static displays since nobody else stealth aircraft – we must not need them either. Same goes with the F-22, though it’s flight demonstration is really awesome, I highly recommend it to anyone who likes that kind of thing. Makes other 4th generation aircraft look, well, 4th generation.

      I suppose this might require a major shift in our foreign policy, but we shouldn’t worry about that. It will save us a lot of money and we won’t have to worry about being too far ahead of anyone else.

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