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Debunking Aircraft Carrier Myths Pt 1

June 8, 2009

Proponents of the large deck aircraft carrier have well-used excuses why we need to keep these highly expensive and decreasing-in-number warships as the core of today’s Navy. For the record, lets hear from one of the most effective advocates of the super-flattops in modern times, former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, John Lehman, who wrote the following in his book On Seas of Glory:

A smaller carrier is less expensive, meaning more carriers for a given dollar amount and fewer eggs in each basket. But compared to the large nuclear carrier, smaller carriers lack the speed and endurance of a big deck; the poor seakeeping qualities of smaller carriers curtail flight operations as much as 30% of the time. Smaller deck areas limit aircraft in performance as well as in numbers. A ten-year review of carrier landing accidents showed the smaller decks with nearly double the accident rate of the Nimitz class. Moreover, the reduced volume on smaller ships limits weapons mix and storage capbility…A smaller ship is ultimately harder to sustain and needs far more under-way replenishment and hence additional replenishment ships.

And concerning enhanced survivability:

Some of the war-fighting features that make the Nimitz class the least vulnerable ship in any fleet include high-tensile-strength steel armoring of the flight and lower decks, magazine protection from high-and low-angle attack missiles and torpedoes, and multiple provisions for torpedo protection including more than two thousand watertight, shock-resistant compartments; protecting fire-fighting and flooding systems;chemical biological and radiation protection; and unlimited range at top speed… As the battles of WWII have demonstrated, it is quit another order of magnitude to sink it.

Bigger Decks and Smaller Airwings

I will be the first to concede that the giant nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Nimitz class, is probably the best that type or warship can be. If you want a ship to carry upwards of 100 aircraft, speed quickly to a crisis zone and make an impact, you probably could do no better. Considering the drastic reduction in ship numbers since the 1990s, coinciding with the astonishing cost to build supercarriers even without their weapons, perhaps it is time to ask if such wondrous and massive vessels are the right ships to carry out the mission of power projection, and whether they are any more survivable than smaller warships.

USS Midway (CV-41) in 1984

USS Midway (CV-41) in 1984

Lehman’s principle criticism concerned smaller, cheaper supposedly less capable aircraft carriers as alternatives to the Nimitz class, yet throughout his tenure the Navy successfully deployed such ships in its final standoff with the old Soviet Navy. Two ships of the WW 2 era Midway class served into the early 1990s, the Coral Sea and Midway. Both had been extensively updated and capably served modern naval aircraft. The class was the first to deploy an all-F/A-18 Hornet force, as do all USN carriers today. Their 45,000 ton size, half that of the Nimitz, didn’t limit their presence and power, as both ships were deployed in frontline service until their retirement, as in the Mediterranean Sea, the Western Pacific, and during the 1991 Gulf War.

It seems the consistently rising cost of supercarriers are also doing their part to “limit aircraft in performance as well as in numbers”. Today only a single warplane, the F/A-18 Hornet and its versions fly from the large decks, where up to 7 use to perform the same missions. While a more than adequate warplane, we would expect better for our 100,000 ton, $10 billion giants, with an all-Hornet airwing more suited to the half-sized Midway.

Mr Lehman is likely correct when he says “poor seakeeping qualities of smaller carriers curtail flight operations as much as 30%“, but compared to what? To the Nimitz class of course. Does this in anyway hinder the smaller ship in its primary mission of power projection? Every new carrier currently under construction in foreign shipyards are of the small V/STOL variety or medium CTOL (conventional take-off and landing). The motivation may be economic, but principally because any aviation-capable warship is an asset to a sea-going force. In certain circumstance, flight operations can be inhibited on any size deck, especially in adverse weather. Such conditions might also vary according to crew training, the age of a ship, or how well it is maintained.

The Benefits of Small Decks

Modernized Essex class  USS Shangri-La (CV-38) in 1970

Modernized Essex class USS Shangri-La (CV-38) in 1970

As navy Secretary in the early 1980s, Lehman himself advocated the use of supposedly less capable Essex class carriers still in retirement, until this plan was vetoed by Congress. The modernized 36,000 ton veterans of the Pacific War with Japan were frontline ships throughout the Cold War, finally decommissioned not because they were no longer useful, but worn out from decades of service. The Secretary praised the durability of the small carriers as noted above with “As the battles of WWII have demonstrated, it is quit another order of magnitude to sink it.”

These durable warships, comparatively small by Nimitz standards, were good enough to withstand the mass Kamikaze attacks late in the war, which is a forerunner of cruise missile warfare today. They survived not so much by their construction, but extremely efficient and well-trained damage control procedure. The July 29, 1967 fire which knocked the armored carrier USS Forestall out of service for almost a year, induced the Navy to relearn these forgotten tactics of the war-era.

So we see that larger carriers, while durable, are very difficult to repair, as the British learned the hard way with their handful of armored carriers during the war. It also doesn’t require a crippling blow to knock a carrier our of action. Inhibit her ability to launch planes and she is effectively useless as a warship. With the USN struggling to maintain 10-11 flattops in service, the risk to our sea dominance becomes greater with a few giant ships.

If the large decks are so much more survivable, as Lehman insists, the question comes to mind “why do they need $2-$3 billion dollar Aegis anti-missile ships as escorts, the most advanced and costly surface warships ever built”? If they are as survivable as the Secretary assures us, then logically smaller and cheaper point-defense frigates costing around a half billion dollars would be adequate, and also boost ship numbers with the savings.

Continued tomorrow with Pt 2.

39 Comments leave one →
  1. Heretic permalink
    June 9, 2009 6:33 pm

    Feasible? Yes.

    Desireable? That’s open to debate … and depends more on configuration and operational doctrine than anything else. It also depends on whether the railgun(s) and/or FEL are tasked primarily with bombardment (ie. NGFS) or interception (point defense).

    Obviously there will be possible arrangements which are less “helpful” in terms of layout of spaces on board ship, so just because you can *do it* doesn’t necessarily mean it would be wise to do so. Particularly if the tasking for these sorts of weapons is better served by a carrier’s escorts, rather than by the carrier itself.

  2. elgatoso permalink
    June 9, 2009 2:41 pm

    Heretic:What about a aircraft carrier with railguns and FEL.It is feasible?

  3. Andy permalink
    June 9, 2009 1:25 pm

    sorry folks, thought the first on hadnt gone up. there was a bit of a delay.

  4. Andy permalink
    June 9, 2009 1:24 pm

    elgatoso, nigel gee site is http://www.ngal.co.uk/ , but lots off stuf has been removed and the section it was in is ‘ under construction’. There is still some stuff in data sheets section, including some interesting street fighter pdfs. the ship i was refering to above was a flexible frigate design called F5, info on it is also hidden among info on fast pentamaran transports. It was a design concept done for the royal navys future surface combatant project (fsc). another treasure trove of info is http://navy-matters.beedall.com/. Happy reading.

  5. Andy permalink
    June 9, 2009 11:59 am

    elgatoso,

    Nigel Gee site is http://www.ngal.co.uk/?/123 , but alot of the stuff has been removed and is now ‘under construction, but try in data sheets. Found this though after a google search, http://media.bmt.org/bmt_media/resources/33/F5casestudyformatted.pdf, and this
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/fsc.htm. The concept was a flexible frigate design called the F5.

  6. Heretic permalink
    June 9, 2009 11:50 am

    Well, there’s two weapon systems that are rapidly approaching maturation which will very nearly completely revolutionize ASuW. Those weapons are the railgun, and the FEL laser. Both of these weapon systems leverage the “all electric ship” system to the maximum.

    The FEL laser will operate as (most likely) a mast mounted turret (or few) at the end of an “optical periscope” so that the laser itself can be located within the ship’s hull (where it can be kept “safely” away from the outside environment in a convenient to maintain environment and not make the ship too topheavy to sail). This will, of course, be a Line-of-Sight only weapon, primarily tasked with air defense and missile defense. Rapid fire cycling of the FEL would be key to its usefulness as a point defense system, since a slow rate of fire would result in a system that can be overwhelmed through sheer numbers of attackers … saturating the defenses beyond their ability to respond (in time).

    The railgun is used as the over-the-horizon weapon and is what gets tasked with the NGFS role. It’s primary purpose is surface-to-surface, and almost certainly be used mainly in a ship-to-shore mode of operation, with a secondary emphasis on ship-to-ship, and depending on how good the ballistics and tracking systems match up, possibly even be used for surface-to-air engagements where the FEL would not be (for a variety of reasons) a good choice (at the time).

    It is entirely possible that the requisite technologies for these two revolutionary weapons will have matured sufficiently that by 2020 we’ll be looking at what sort of ship you want to have both of these in, and in what configurations. And then the balance of striking power will shift from the aircraft carrier back to the gunships (certainly for the NGFS mission anyway). Carriers will still be “useful” for long range strike (enter UCAS-D or whatever it is by then), but the “short” range (100-200 kms) strike will shift from aircraft to guns … simply because the guns will be safer (no human riding the projectile) and cheaper than planes. Also the railguns will often times put ordnance on target faster than a strike plane could, due to faster flight speed, meaning short response times to requests for fire support.

    At the same time, airplanes will NOT become obsolete by any stretch of the imagination. Fixed wing aviation will still be necessary, for air-to-air superiority, and in environments with dense hostile ECM it may be necessary to have pilots flying as Forward Air Controller for bomb damage assessment and recon purposes. Ground strike UCAVs will fulfill the navy’s requirement for long range strike (in excess of 700 nmi from the carrier) and beyond the range of the railguns. And the navy is still going to want its own “fast mover” fixed wing EW assets (F/A-18G or successor), so planes (and flattops that carry them) will still be necessary.

    The difference is that the “Littoral Battleship” that carries the FEL/railgun combo will need to be sized small enough to fight and survive close(r) to shore so as to be able to project their power further ashore … because that’s where all the “juicy targets” are going to be, which can’t be “reached” by other weapons available to the blue water forces (ie. submarines and torpedoes, aircraft and missiles). Also, given the level of resistance that will probably be encountered in a forced entry ashore scenario, you’re going to have to presume that you’re going to lose some of these ships … in which case it’s best to go for small and numerous (spreading the eggs around) rather than large and consolidated (bomb magnet, all-in-one basket) for this sort of task.

  7. elgatoso permalink
    June 9, 2009 11:35 am

    andy:have some link?

  8. Andy permalink
    June 9, 2009 6:03 am

    Distiller, wow… love it! The battle cruiser is dead, long live the battle cruiser! I think it was a bmt nigel gee design for a rail gun armed pentamaran ( 40 knots+) that popped into my head when reading your post. It was a concept design in about 2003, bmt claiming it would be doable by about 2015. A much smaller design 6000t dispalcement, but getting there.

  9. elgatoso permalink
    June 9, 2009 2:02 am

    Distiller,:
    Air University’s Center for Strategy and Technology.Lt Col Michael J. Hornitschek, thesis>
    “Setting aside conventional paradigms allows one to imagine a conceptual 2050 force. All navy ships might employ nuclear-powered direct-electric drives, lightweight nanoengineered hulls, and directed energy armament.”
    http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/the-dewline/2007/02/oilfree-by-2050.html
    I liked your idea

  10. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 8, 2009 7:12 pm

    Heretic: Those slide-rule numbers the Navy gives out to justify its 11 Big Decks is just a worse case scenario and depends on several factors. There have been numerous times in the Middle East where there wasn’t a carrier at all, land based airpower filled the gap. They will say anything to keep the money invested in a few supercarriers while the rest of the fleet suffers.

    The USN studies continue to degrade ship numbers, and the ones we do get are over-priced, overweight and technically troubled. You can no longer trust the studies to set shipbuilding policy. Why else would Congress be raking the leadership over the coals trying to make some sense out of bad ideas like the LCS?

    The old rules set during the Cold War no longer apply. Its a new defense environment, with new rules on how precious ship funds should be spent. The Navy’s way offers no choices and no answers, so it is up to us to offer alternatives and hope somebody listens. It’s either adapt or die.

  11. June 8, 2009 6:13 pm

    I clearly wrote about 2 in Western and 2 in Eastern CONUS and expressed my opinion about forward deployment. I did NOT write about 4 carriers being in some remote parts of the seven seas. I wrote CONUS.

    I know that the forward deployment makes large numbers of ships necessary – that’s part of why a forward deployment strategy is crazy.

    Take “Prince of Wales and Repulse” as exhibit No.2 for the case “forward deployment is crazy”.

    Another reason for why it’s crazy is that it actually provokes foreign countries and motivates them to develop counters to the ever-present CVN threat.
    A big stick is fine, but you shouldn’t hold it under the nose of everyone in the whole block every day. That’s just crazy. People don’t react favourable to such behaviour.

    The same applies to SSBN (and SSN escort) cruises. They don’t need to be in the oceans for months. The USN only needs to keep *some* at sea. The French and British are satisfied with one or two on cruise at any given moment – and there’s no real need for long cruises as long as there are always some at sea.
    A single Ohio SSBN holds 288 nuclear warheads. That’s enough to kill China with a single SSBN! 2 at sea is more than enough. It’s also enough to keep them on short cruises close to CONUS. Retaliation is not an urgent task, the boat could still cruise into range.

    Finally the forward deployment of MEUs. It’s crazy as well. It’s pretty much a permanent threat and the quantity of really necessary, non-luxury short reaction employments of these MEUs is marginal (if greater than zero at all) in comparison to the quantity of forward-deployed MEUs since the 90’s.

    The whole mode of operation of the USN is so crazy that nobody would be mad enough to develop such a wasteful and expensive mode of operation today if it wasn’t already a custom.

    It’s a maximum-we-ignore-the-costs-and-all-disadvantages mode.
    It’s Cold War craziness on life support.

    Wake up. The USA is broke.

  12. Distiller permalink
    June 8, 2009 6:00 pm

    @ Andy,

    I’ve been toying with the idea of a modern interpretation of the battleship, something straight out of a sci-fi flick. A very large (45.000ts plus), very fast (50kts plus), nuclear powered, armored surface warfare vessel with non-conventional LO hull configuration (e.g. a half submerged wavecutter). Armed with heavy supersonic AShM or future railguns, all for strict anti-surface work. The knack is to fill it up with short-range defensive systems, so that it can parry whatever an enemy carrier air wing could conventionally throw at it, and armor it up so that your average Exocet or Harpoon doesn’t even leave a dent in case it leakes through. It’s extreme speed would make it a very hard target for SSNs and torpedos. Of course massively expensive like a CVN, but a vessel that might not be defeateable with non-nuclear weapons. A modern day Bismarck, a carrier killer.

  13. B.Smitty permalink
    June 8, 2009 5:43 pm

    Heretic, I think Sven is suggesting a different set of strategic requirements for the US Military than what the USN is operating under right now. This more of a political argument than a technical one.

  14. Heretic permalink
    June 8, 2009 5:24 pm

    My take is that 5 CVN (2 Western CONUS, 2 Eastern CONUS, 1 in refit) should be enough. Forward deployment is crazy.

    Sven, those numbers are crazy.

    Point 1:
    In order to have a single ship on deployment at all times, you need to have (at least) three copies of that ship in order to allow a proper rotation of forces such that *a ship* will always be on station in that theater of operations.

    One on station
    One in transit (and/or in readiness/training)
    One replenishing in “home” port with its crew on leave

    That “necessity of numbers” in order to supply continual presence, 365.25 days a year, is what is driving the requirement for 10 carriers right now … and explains why you really DO NOT want to drop below 10 carriers if you’re going to be maintaining the sort of navy the USN is trying to hold onto. 10 CVNs essentially translates into 3-4 carriers permanently on station around the world, with a surge reserve in the event of crisis, with 1 carrier (ie. the 10th) undergoing SLEP/refit/refueling in the rotation so as to not screw up the rest of the fleet(s) that have to deploy.

    So that’s the “numbers” side of things. And that’s not even taking into account treaty obligations of keeping 1 carrier based in Japan as their home port.

    Understand that this numbers side of things does not in any way address the “right size” issue of how much displacement/complement these carriers should be built to. Nor does it address things like the nuclear vs non-nuclear point, or a whole bunch of other things. All I’m focusing on is the notion that *IF* you’re going to have any *meaningful* forward deployment presence … on a global scale … you’re looking at a 10 CVN requirement, simply due to how the rotations to deploy those ships works out.

    1 at home
    1 at sea
    1 getting ready to go to sea

    10 CVNs allows you to “cover” essentially three oceans … Pacific, Atlantic and Indian/Mediterranean/Persian Gulf … at all times.

  15. Scott B. permalink
    June 8, 2009 5:21 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Keep in mind (in this rather pointless size discussions) that it’s not a 1:1 survivability question, but a 3:2 or 4:3 survivability question.”

    Because you split your eggs into a slightly greater number of much more fragile baskets doesn’t mean that you’re going to improve on survivability. Quite the opposite in reality.

    As for the discussion being pointless, the optimum size for a CV/CVN is a subject that’s been (over)analyzed in numerous US Navy studies. And they always came to the same conclusion…

  16. June 8, 2009 4:17 pm

    Keep in mind (in this rather pointless size discussions) that it’s not a 1:1 survivability question, but a 3:2 or 4:3 survivability question.
    You can buy and operate a larger fleet of smaller ships for the same cost.
    That difference is smaller than the displacement difference, but it shouldn’t be ignored entirely.

    ——————-
    @Smitty:
    “The US had only limited local basing, so land-based tacair could not contribute as it has in the past. Long-ranged bomber sorties are useful, but there are only so many available, and flying one sortie every other day or every three days means very few sustained CAS/ISR orbits.”

    Wait, 60 B-1B, 19 B-2, dozens of B-52 and you claim there weren’t enough heavy bombers? Ridiculous.
    The Taliban had no fighters and no AD to speak of. Heavy bombers were more than enough, and their loiter time was actually ifne in comparison to the laughable loiter time of F-18’s who were near-permanent attachments to KCs in comparison to B-1B’s and B-52’s with their endurance (on one fuel load) of more than ten hours.

    “Other countries live fine without a dozen carriers because they don’t have the same strategic requirements.”

    Strategic requirements or pretensions and taste for wars of choice?

    “The Brits had trouble retaking a tiny island against a 3rd-world foe.”

    Yet they did it, with quite minimal losses. Their planned 2-CVN force would be more than enough to repeat it, but they cannot afford to keep the amphibious capability.

    “There’s no way they could replicate OEF or OIF on their own. Same goes for the French.”

    I already told you: Not being able to enter that quagmire would have been a GREAT thing.

    Besides; the Taliban could have been defeated nevertheless. The Russians were interested in their removal for their own reasons, more diplomacy could have yielded additional airbases.
    Or the West simply could have fought without air support. Imagine that – it’s possible, really!

    “My question stands: What should the U.S. military be able to do?”

    The answer is up to its voters, but foreigners can comment on whether the answer is wise or not.
    I like to point out that the US: military is blown out of proportion and not linked to defensive needs (even in the context of alliance defence) at all.
    Americans have become used to their bloated military, but that doesn’t make the assertion that it’s “necessary” right.
    It helps to look at how little others need (and whether this or that capability is really defensive) to keep the proportions.

  17. Scott B. permalink
    June 8, 2009 3:56 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Is it any more survivable than smaller ships.”

    Yes, because while their susceptibility is not greater than smaller ships like the much-touted Midways, their vulnerability is much lower.

  18. Andy permalink
    June 8, 2009 3:35 pm

    Distiller, ‘Today blue water is subsurface (or a future sci-fi version of a Bismarck/Kirov cross-breed high-speed monster)’. What exactly did you have in mind?

  19. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 8, 2009 3:01 pm

    Smitty, no one says we need to do without naval air. My question is the large Nimitz class carrier the right choice for this mission. Is it any more survivable than smaller ships. Wouldn’t smaller airwings, where we seem to be heading, logically lead to smaller carriers? That is what I want to know, as it seems the Big Ship dig into an ever deeper part of the shipbuilding budget.

    I am for more choices and a bigger fleet, where it seems at least since the Reagan era the Navy has slammed the door shut on any such discussion.

  20. B.Smitty permalink
    June 8, 2009 2:54 pm

    Sven,

    How would it be done differently?

    The US had only limited local basing, so land-based tacair could not contribute as it has in the past. Long-ranged bomber sorties are useful, but there are only so many available, and flying one sortie every other day or every three days means very few sustained CAS/ISR orbits. TLAMs are too expensive, slow, and not very useful when 80% of targets struck by Navair were unknown before the aircraft launched (as in OEF).

    Other countries live fine without a dozen carriers because they don’t have the same strategic requirements. The Brits had trouble retaking a tiny island against a 3rd-world foe. There’s no way they could replicate OEF or OIF on their own. Same goes for the French.

    My question stands: What should the U.S. military be able to do? If we, as a nation, decide to give up on ODS/OIF/OEF-sized endeavors, then certainly the number of carriers can go down. If not, I fail to see reasonable alternatives to carrier air. Maybe long-ranged UCAVs or bombers, but they have their own issues.

    Take a look at this Rand monograph describing the contributions of carrier air to those conflicts.

    http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND_MG404.pdf

  21. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 8, 2009 2:13 pm

    Sven I agree that we don’t need so may CVNs. As I wrote, almost any aviation capable ship is an asset to a fleet, as Britain proved in the Falklands. Now they want to be like us and SURPRISE! They can’t afford it, as the two large decks siphon much need funds for the Army in Afghanistan and more useful GP escort ships.

  22. June 8, 2009 1:38 pm

    It would be done differently, so what?

    By the way; why can so many other countries live fine without a dozen CVNs and nearly a trillion USD annual military expenditures (including the hidden costs)?

    Are they smarter?

    Or aren’t they smarter, but it’s not really necessary to spend that much, to have that much?

    By the way; the USA cannot afford its military. Military expenditures are state consumption, pretty much waste in macro-economic terms.
    The U.S. federal budget (and many state budgets) is in a huge deficit. The whole nation is in a deficit (trade balance).
    It simply cannot go on as usual.

    Look at the French and British; they can live with a much, much smaller force. They’re more geographically exposed to potential enemies, but they don’t need all that stuff.
    They want two carriers each; enough to always have one at hand, to be sent to where they want it to be.
    Other nations don’t even see the need for anything approaching a LHD.

    So why exactly does the USA need 12 CVN, 8 LHD & 2 LHA?

    Maybe it doesn’t?

    Or imagine the USA had not invaded Iraq for a lack of capability.
    Wouldn’t that be GREAT?

  23. B.Smitty permalink
    June 8, 2009 1:30 pm

    Sven said, “My take is that 5 CVN (2 Western CONUS, 2 Eastern CONUS, 1 in refit) should be enough. Forward deployment is crazy.”

    Enough for what? That is the multi-billion dollar question.

    What missions should the U.S. military (not just Navy) be capable of performing?

    We surged 6 carriers for OIF and had two more waiting in the wings. They accounted for half of the fighter sorties flown during their time there.

    From Oct, 2001 to March 2002, six CVBGs participated in OEF (though not simultaneously), accounting for 75% of fighter sorties flown.

    If we drop back to six carriers total, we would not be able to repeat either effort.

  24. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 8, 2009 1:00 pm

    “So don’t discuss size – discuss quantity of given ships!”

    But their all related, the size of the ships will dictate the number you buy. Logically the smaller the ship the less expensive and the bigger your fleet.

  25. June 8, 2009 12:24 pm

    “The problem Sven is the ones we have are more than we can afford, meaning they are affecting the entire budget process and other essential warfighting tools, as we will continue to prove over the next couple days.”

    So don’t discuss size – discuss quantity of given ships!

    My take is that 5 CVN (2 Western CONUS, 2 Eastern CONUS, 1 in refit) should be enough. Forward deployment is crazy.

    LHA-4/-5 can be sold to friendly nations or mothballed.

    LHD production could stop at LHD-8, and the existing ones could be undermanned (like four crews for 8 ships, thus extending the service life of these versatile ships). Again, no forward deployment except in safe places (like Mauritius, Sao Tome, Australia).

  26. Scott B. permalink
    June 8, 2009 10:13 am

    Mike Burleson said : “For the record, lets hear from one of the most effective advocates of the super-flattops in modern times, former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, John Lehman,”

    Only two new CVNs were authorized under John Lehman’s tenure as SECNAV (02/05/1981 – 04/10/1987) : USS Abraham Lincoln, CVN-72 (award date : 12/27/1982) and USS George Washington, CVN-73 (award date : 12/27/1982).

    Here is how ADM Carlisle Trost (CNO, 06/30/1986 – 06/29/1990) described John Lehman’s contribution in the fight to get USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) authorised :

    “Comments like that do damage because it appears he is the spokesman for guys like me,” Admiral Trost said. “Well, he is not. Nor was he the spokesman for his successor. For a man to do that just before he leaves office is like tossing down the gauntlet and not sticking around for the fight.”

    And ADM Carlisle to conclude that John Lehman “was not a balanced human being.”

    So much for the *effective advocate of the super-flattops in modern times*, I guess…

  27. Scott B. permalink
    June 8, 2009 9:35 am

    Mike Burleson said : “If they are as survivable as the Secretary assures us, then logically smaller and cheaper point-defense frigates costing around a half billion dollars would be adequate, and also boost ship numbers with the savings.”

    Point-defense is solely meant to shoot at the arrows, and generally cannot shoot at the archer.

    Shooting at the archer is the only way to avoid saturation. To shoot at the archer, you use either area AAW-capable escorts or CAPs.

    If you have only point-defense frigates, and still want to cope with a given level of saturation, then you have to be able to put more CAPs in the air. Which means, almost inevitably, larger carriers.

  28. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 8, 2009 9:24 am

    The problem Sven is the ones we have are more than we can afford, meaning they are affecting the entire budget process and other essential warfighting tools, as we will continue to prove over the next couple days.

  29. Scott B. permalink
    June 8, 2009 9:16 am

    Mike Burleson said : “If the large decks are so much more survivable, as Lehman insists, the question comes to mind “why do they need $2-$3 billion dollar Aegis anti-missile ships as escorts, the most advanced and costly surface warships ever built”?”

    Some clarification may be in order here :

    1) Survivability includes three main aspects which are susceptibility, vulnerability, and recoverability.

    2) What Lehman was specifically talking about was vulnerability, and more specifically how the increased size translated into a reduced vulnerability.

    3) Escorts don’t do anything to reduce vulnerability. Their job is to reduce susceptibility.

    In other words, given a desired level of survivability, if you increase the vulnerability of your carrier (by reducing its size), you’d have to reduce its susceptibility, i.e. increase the number of escorts.

  30. June 8, 2009 9:13 am

    Who cares? The USA has enough carriers of different sizes – there’s no need to build new ones and therefore no need to find an optimum size.
    Just make sure you use the existing ones to get the job done (and define the job well!).

  31. Scott B. permalink
    June 8, 2009 9:01 am

    The British Queen Elizabeth-class carriers are about the same size as the old USS Midway (CV-41), i.e. :

    Queen Elizabeth / Midway :

    * overall length : 930 feet / 1,000 feet
    * waterline length : 865 feet / 900 feet
    * extreme beam : 239 feet / 258 feet
    * waterline beam : 128 feet / 121 feet
    * draft : 36 feet / 35 feet
    * full load displacement : 65,000 tons (up to 75,000 at end of service life) / 69,909 tons

    Maximum expected Air Group to be embarked on the QE is 40 planes (36 JSF + 4 AEWs), typical Air Group being 30 JSF, 4 AEWs and 6 Merlins.

    That means that on a design that’s about 2/3 the size of a CVN, you’re going to have an Air Group which is about 1/2 the size of a CVN.

    On a sidenote, that the Royal Navy may have felt the need for new carriers that are triple the size of the current Invincible is not insignificant.

  32. Scott B. permalink
    June 8, 2009 7:58 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Their 45,000 ton size, half that of the Nimitz, didn’t limit their presence and power.”

    Actually, in the 1980s-90s, the Midways displaced much more than 45,000 tons.

    Below are the displacements for USS Midway (CV-41), shortly before decommissioning :

    Light displacement : 53,029 tons
    Full displacement : 69,909 tons

    And for (non-)comparison purposes, here are the displacements for USS Nimitz (CVN-68) :

    Light displacement : 78,280 tons
    Full displacement : 101,196 tons

    So, if my maths is correct, a Midway was about 2/3 the size of a Nimitz.

  33. Distiller permalink
    June 8, 2009 7:42 am

    No doubt that CVN are a work of art and highly efficient – up to a point. Because attack by multiple nuclear effectors makes every surface unit/formation just a target.

    Today blue water is subsurface (or a future sci-fi version of a Bismarck/Kirov cross-breed high-speed monster), in any case not carrier based. Carriers now have land attack jobs. Using the same tonnage to build more hulls offers things like scalability, higher survivability on a task force level, more attack vectors.

    LHA-6 shows that the Navy might tend towards smaller carriers for the littorals. Of course Big Navy does everything to keep the danger away from their CVN darlings (like calling them T-LHA and talking about building them to commercial standards). But what they will open up with LHA-6 – whether they like it or not – is the discussion about the carrier role, size, and characteristics.

    It’s complex. But I think one thing is clear: In the future every larger surface combatant has to have the capability to protect itself, to rule his “bubble” of, say, 10nm across. Close escort is passé, like it is in aerial warfare. And should the number of required escorts go down, the viability of the medium multipurpose carrier (~55.000ts) increases, one that can play the role of fleet carrier *and* amphib 3D assault platform for Marines and Army Aviation.

  34. Jerry in Detroit permalink
    June 8, 2009 7:15 am

    I believ that all branches of the military are struggling with the effects of new sensor technology combined with precision guided munitions. The ability to drop one bomb, fire one missile or artillery round and hit the target 90% of the time means we need a lot less of all these platforms.

Trackbacks

  1. Carrier Alternative Weekly « New Wars
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