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Small Aircraft Carriers

July 14, 2005

Continuing my thoughts on the military’s obsession with platforms. Here I discuss the ultimate platform, the giant aircraft carriers still being built despite many reaching outrageous cost. Since the 1982 Falklands War, Britain has proved that small aircraft carriers with Harrier V/STOL aircraft can hold their own against fixed wing jet fighters. Likewise these planes have proved ideal for launching from the US Marine’s big assault ships during Operation Iraqi Freedom where they were dubbed “Harrier Carriers”. Yet America and Britain continue to produce the huge and increasingly vulnerable heavy carriers, and are depleting their surface fleet in order to accommodate these expensive dinosaurs. Here’s what the Pentagon’s ex-Transformation Chief had to say about Small Carriers:

Arthur Cebrowski, the retired three-star admiral who leads the Pentagon’s transformation office, defied convention last week by suggesting the Navy, long wedded to its fleet of massive aircraft carriers, should convert high-speed vessels into “very, very small” aircraft carriers.
He briefly sketched out a concept for distributed, seabased, tactical aviation that would use large numbers of minicarriers, each carrying a handful of short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing Joint Strike Fighters armed with very small, precise weapons. It was one of several ideas he discussed Aug. 4 during remarks at a Navy research and development conference in Washington, DC.
…The minicarrier … is depicted carrying five tactical aircraft and other items, including a couple of helicopters and some amphibious assault craft. These vessels would be network-centric and could contribute to seabasing, according to Cebrowski’s briefing. Under the heading “assured access,” the briefing argues the minicarrier would “correct tactical instability” and complicate enemy intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The minicarrier would be more survivable against certain threats and less susceptible and vulnerable, according to the briefing. The idea would also allow the Navy to reduce manpower and costs, the briefing argues.

There’s good news: The Navy may be forced to retire some of its carriers because of the cost of its new Brown Water fleet plans.

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