Debunking Aircraft Carrier Myths Pt 3
Summing up this week’s study of large versus small deck aircraft carriers, here are our conclusions:
- Large armored carriers are no less susceptible to battle damage than smaller ships and are harder to repair in wartime.
- The Navy’s insistence in buying only high-end Aegis anti-missile escorts reveals the service’s own doubts of the Big Ship’s survivability in combat.
- More numerous small carriers would take best advantage of the advances in precision bombing aircraft, manned or unmanned. Dispersed in adequate numbers, they would greatly enhance the Navy’s global presence.
- The benefits of nuclear power is counteracted by its drawbacks such as greatly multiplying the cost for individual ships, which in turn reduces the number of carrier purchases, ensuring a smaller fleet less available for global commitments. The dangers of radiation, whether perceived or real, also alienate even our closest allies during random port visits by ships so equipped.
- Any aviation capable ship is an asset to a Navy.
- With cheaper aircraft carriers, precious defense funds can be diverted to improving naval aircraft in quality and especially increasing their numbers, which is the sole reason for the carrier’s existence.
With the basics covered, here is our modest proposal for a future conventional carrier:
America Class Medium Carrier
Some might contend that the cost of a smaller conventional carrier isn’t much less than of a full sized nuclear supercarrier.With a new Marine carrier like the USS America coming in at $3 billion, this is not an exaggerated statement. We think the high cost of America and her sisters are the product of lack of competition in US shipyards as well as the ongoing mismanagement. With a drastic overhaul of shipbuilding practices, greater competition, even building ships in foreign yards, big savings could incur, perhaps bringing us closer to the $1 billion mark.
As a Marine amphibious warship, USS America is already well-protected against damage, even from a nearby nuclear blast. Geared specifically toward aviation support, she is already equipped with spacious hangars to accept F-35B V/STOL version of the Joint Strike Fighter. With the addition of a ski ramp, she could operate the higher performance F-36C, or even the venerable F/A-18 Hornet.
The airwing would consist of 3 squadrons of 12 planes each, for 36 fighters, a mix of F/A-18 Super Hornets and the F-35C Lightning II JSF as the latter becomes available. Since all carriers typically sail with helicopter equipped escorts, the need for an ASW wing would be negated, save for a few utility choppers. The electronic warfare “Grizzly” complement might be reduced to 2, as would the EW Hawkeyes, though certainly no more than 3, and perhaps advances in technology might integrate the essential missions of both aircraft.
If costs can be reined in, here is what the future USN carrier force may look like:
- 10 America class CVV Medium Aircraft Carriers
- 5 of the more recent Nimitz class CVN supercarriers
- 12 LHA/LHD amphibious aircraft carriers
All this would consist of an easier to maintain carrier fleet, whose aviation assets, whether traditional manned jets or unmanned combat aerial vehicles can be built in adequate numbers and affordably replaced as needed. Further savings would be channeled into the general purpose operating forces. Long-neglected small escort ships, newer littoral ships, submarines, ect. could then be built up into a more balanced fleet, instead the top heavy force the USN currently deploys, wholly tied to supporting the handful of Big Deck supercarriers. Finally future naval strategists could think beyond the modest “313 ship fleet” and to a larger 450-500-600 ship force, with vital numbers more fitting a worldwide force for good as the US Navy.