Carrier Alternative Weekly
Pilots, Man the Torpedo Tubes
Last week we started the post with a quote concerning the increased use of the converted Ohio class SSGN, former ballistic missile subs, posing the new question “Where are the Tactical Tridents?” Today we have news of yet another domain of the aircraft carrier the new underwater battleships are venturing into–airpower. Story from Graham Warwick at Ares blog:
The US Naval Research Laboratory plans to demonstrate the launch of an unmanned aircraft from a submerged submarine – and not just any UAV, but a fuel cell-powered aircraft that has already demonstrated the ability to stay aloft more more than 6 hours.
NRL plans to award a contract to Oceaneering for a submerged launch system that would deploy a UAV launch canister, called Sea Robin, from the torpedo tube of a nuclear submarine. A mock-up of the launch system has already been built and tested, it says.
This would be quite handy for the spy stuff the SSGNs do so well! Interesting that the initial role for ground-based UAVs, and even manned aircraft way back in the Great War, was reconnaissance, so we have high hopes for the new weapons.
5 Reasons Not to Visit the Yellow Sea
Thats how many a Chinese General recently listed for the US Navy to keep its carriers out of the Yellow Sea, according to Defense Tech:
- “We will never allow others to keep snoring beside our beds.” or “If the United States were in China’s shoes, would it allow China to stage military exercises near its western and eastern coasts?”
- When it comes to its own security, China must always prepare for the worst. “The bottom line for strategic thinking is to nip the evil in the bud,” Luo says.
- The U.S.-South Korean drill area is only 500 kilometers from Beijing.
- The U.S.-South Korean naval exercise creates a new crisis, Luo says, arguing that exercises in the Yellow Sea will only heighten tensions on the Korean peninsula
- Luo says sending the George Washington into the Yellow Sea creates an additional barrier to development of healthy China-U.S. military relations, adding to China’s resentment over arms sales to Taiwan.
The General also hints at another reason, the USN will be able to closely observe the activities and passage of Chinese submarines. OK, so carriers aren’t allowed, but he didn’t say nothing’ about ex-Trident boomer subs, right?
China’s Land-based Naval Power
Speaking of escalations, the USN isn’t worried so much about Chinese aircraft carriers as they are new missiles that are said to be able to target our biggest warships. Here from the Stars and Stripes, Erik Slavin reports:
The advanced weapon, a medium-range anti-ship ballistic missile known as the Dong Feng 21D, is “nearing operational capability,” according to a report last year by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence. And if its targeting system proves accurate, the Dong Feng would rank as the world’s first mobile, land-based missile capable of hitting a moving aircraft carrier from nearly 2,000 miles away, depending on its payload and other factors.
Privately, U.S. military officials concede they are alarmed. One Navy official familiar with Pacific operations, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Navy has only a theoretical countermeasure against the Dong Feng 21D because its trajectory and other capabilities are still largely unknown.
But even in public, senior officials have begun alluding to the problem.
“We have some concerns over the very aggressive weapons [the Chinese] are procuring,” U.S. Navy 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. John Bird told Stars and Stripes last month.
Experts say the Dong Feng’s basic design isn’t much different from the Cold War-era Pershing II developed by the United States. But it’s the land-based platform, the payload and the capability of a ballistic missile to redirect in mid-flight that especially concerns U.S. strategists.
“[Individually], the technical abilities are not unprecedented, but it’s a revolutionary combination of capabilities,” said Paul Giarra, a former Navy commander and Defense Department senior Japan country director who now works as a strategic consultant.
The missile would be formidable during a battle, but its consequences go beyond any hypothetical, cataclysmic wars. The Chinese could use the missile as leverage to try to weaken U.S. security pledges to Taiwan and other Asian allies, establishing vast “no-go” zones in the Western Pacific, analysts say.
What worries yours truly is the comparative frugality of the threat. Consider the $100 billion investment the US has in its handful of giant decks, with their tens of thousands of crewman. Compare this to the cost of a missile, probably $1-$10 million each, with the notion that only one is needed to sink a flattop, not even accounting for MIRV warheads. Then imagine this technology being sold on the open arms market to any ole rogue dictator with a missile capability.
I’ll leave you with that thought and the Navy plans which focus the bulk of our striking power at sea on 11 very large targets. But a dramatic dispersal of our capability would ensure survival.
Nork’s Save the Carrier (Again)
The carriers might not be so handy against a peer threat, but lucky for the Navy there is still a Third World dictator around to justify the world’s most expensive warships, even though its all just for show. Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Room gives the details on Operation Invincible Spirit :
According to Admiral Robert Willard, the commander of American forces in the Pacific, the carrier U.S.S. George Washington and a bunch of destroyers from the Navy’s Seventh Fleet will head to the Sea of Japan, along with surveillance aircraft and “destroyers, frigates, and some patrol craft” from the South Korean Navy, including the South Korean transport ship Dodko. Over 100 aircraft from the Air Force’s Seventh Air Wing and the South Korean Air Force are going to fly above. And since a torpedo from a North Korean submarine sank the South Korean warship Cheonan in March, there’ll be anti-submarine exercises as well. It’s going to unfold over several days. And if you happen to find yourself in the southeastern South Korean city of Busan, you’ll be able to catch the action as it happens.
Special Air components for the exercise include four F-22 Raptors — the Air Force’s beloved jet that Defense Secretary Robert Gates put on ice last year. (Awkward.) The ground forces are taking a knee on Invincible Spirit, contrasting the exercise with last year’s mock attack on North Korea. But they’ll be involved in follow-on exercises over the coming months, Willard said, just as Naval and Air Forces will also drill later this year in the West Sea, where the Cheonan was attacked. (According to the South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo, China wasn’t too keen on the exercise kicking off in the West Sea, and judging from Admiral Mike Mullen’s comments in South Korea warning of a lack of Chinese “transparency” about its military intentions, the exercise implicitly sends a message of U.S. potency to the Chinese as well.)
Yeah, just not in the Yellow Sea.
Australia versus USN
The Warramunga opened up with her 127mm gun and scored several direct hits on the former USS New Orleans during Exercise RIMPAC 2010.
The carrier, which retired in 1997 after a 30-year career, suffered an onslaught of Harpoon missiles and laser-guided bombs before the death blow was delivered by a bombardment from eight allied warships.
The 20,000 tonne hulk was blasted into submission before turning on her side and sinking at the US Navy’s range near Hawaii.
That’s great but shouldn’t frigates be chasing submarines instead of picking on a poor helpless carrier without her escorts and aircraft? Even New Wars isn’t so cruel! LOL
The Excuse is a Little Dated
One of the reasons I have heard given for not deploying light aircraft carriers is they are “less capable” and often the carrier Ranger is given as proof of this ongoing notion. Not the 80,000 ton supercarrier of the Forrestal class, America’s version of HMS Dreadnought, but an earlier one. Here is Norman Friedman at The Year in Defense who gives an excellent survey of “Aircraft Carrier Evolution“:
Without any overhang of obsolete tonnage, the United States built the carrier Ranger as the first of five that it hoped would give it the best compromise between carrier capability and total aircraft numbers (it was thought at first that relatively small carriers were best). Indeed, it seemed, before they had been completed, that the big Lexingtons would be white elephants. They turned out to be anything but, partly because the U.S. Navy concluded that carriers would have to operate individually (a conclusion overturned during World War II). Ranger turned out to be too small to be very useful. Before she was completed, U.S. designers were working on a new ship about 50 percent larger, Yorktown. She and her sister ship Enterprise were followed by a third, improved, ship, Hornet, once the interwar limitation had lapsed. These were extremely successful ships.
Some might argue this to be clear proof of the superiority of large decks, able to deploy full-scale airwings in modern war. This dated notion fails to take into account advances in technology over the past 80 years since USS Ranger, with planes vastly more capable in terms of firepower and usability, as New Wars detailed earlier:
- Modern technology has allowed military aircraft, especially Western fighters the capability to do more with much less.
- The lack of any peer threat in the last 40 years, and the prevalence of plenty of high performance jets in America and her allies precludes any risk from reducing numbers at sea.
- High Western training standards, and modern weapons make even lower performing V/STOL planes like the Harrier and the F-35B more than a match for potential enemies.
- The High Cost of large decks actually reduces your strength, since you can only afford a handful of $10 billion ships, and rob from other vital naval functions to deploy that. In other words, when you try to deploy large airwings at sea, more becomes less.
That last point might not matter so much if the only foes you plan to contend with are very poor naval powers such as North Korea, who dare not shoot at our Big Ships. But what if our handful of giant ships are sent into a real shooting war, something they haven’t faced for over 70 years. Mr Friedman also notes:
Moreover, U.S. industrial capacity could more than replace the four (of seven prewar) carriers lost in 1942, whereas Japan’s could not replace her losses.
So, how long would it take us to replace precious ships in a renewed conflict, when missiles, and missile firing platforms are far more easier to build than 100,000 ton superships?
AESA’s New Package
Since we opened today’s article with UAV’s, here is another for closure. According to DoD Buzz’s Colin Clark, Raytheon Corp. plans to place the AESA radar, used on USN fighters and the E-2 Hawkeye early warning plane, on smaller unmanned planes:
The first operational AESA radar was developed by Raytheon for the F-15C fighter. The first systems were flying by December 2000. Since then AESA radars have racked up 150,000 flight hours, according to a Raytheon press release. The growing UAV market offers opportunities for AESA now because Raytheon looks to build conformal radar that weigh 2 to 5 pounds per square foot and are less than an inch thick. That will allow them to be installed in places current radar just can’t go and they could be placed in UAVs with a six-foot wingspan.
The implications of this is you are placing one of the world’s most powerful airborne survelleince and control assets into an increasingly smaller package, which would further sever warfighters from the tyrrany of giant decks, which advocates say is the only way to deploy effective naval aipower from the sea.