Time is Ripe for USN Ski-Jump Carriers
Over at F-16. net, Eric L. Palmer echoes this blog’s frequent call for small carriers to rebuild the USN’s shrinking numbers. With the impending deployment of the F-35B V/STOL version of the Joint Strike Fighter, Eric thinks there might be room for a ski-jump carrier in the Navy’s future:
Don’t we already have small carriers in the form of the United States Marine Corps amphibious support ships ? Yes and no. “Yes” in that they look sort of like aircraft carriers and can perform some fighter aircraft-like missions and “no” in that their naval aviation ability is hobbled. For example, none of the USMC flat deck ships – current or on the drawing board – have a ski-jump for launching STOVL aircraft like the Royal Navy. The ski-jump is important because a STOVL aircraft launched with this method uses less fuel – which means more range and on-station time for the jet.
An old argument often given by the Big Deck Carrier’s Only advocates is that smaller ships are less capable than supercarriers, and smaller airwings aren’t as effective as bigger wings. Due to the widespread use of precision weapons at sea in the past few decades, we think this argument no longer holds water, as we wrote last month in series of posts titled “Debunking Aircraft Carrier Myths” (Pt 1, Pt 2, Pt 3 here):
A ship capable of handling 90-100 planes fails to take advantage of new precision weapons that greatly magnifies the capabilities of smaller platforms. With aircraft now guaranteeing “one bomb, one hit”, it seems now is the time to consider smaller ships with 1/3 to 1/4 airwings, and also the increasing capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles used so successfully in recent land wars.
Eric makes the same argument:
Todays carrier aircraft can hit more targets per flight-ops period in more kinds of weather than they could 20 years ago due to the advent of GPS assisted/kitted munitions (and now affordable multi-mode guidance kits for bombs). Today, a flight of four aircraft can hit more targets in one mission in near any weather, than a whole squadron of aircraft could in the era when dumb munitions were dominant. If 4 F-35 aircraft go out on a strike in the low observable mode where all munitions are carried internally, anywhere from 8 to 32 ground targets can be hit.
The Navy would offer a counter-argument to what we perceive as overkill in large decks and airwings that it would never like to fight fair, but consider such very expensive platforms as supercarriers are becoming “wasting assets” stealing vital funds away from other essential warfighting needs. Currently, the problems of littoral warfare go unanswered, with the proposed LCS increasing in cost and suffering from delays and threats of cancellation. No Navy, not even a superpower can continue to function with only large exquisite vessels and a handful of vitally needed low end assets, less the whole thing collapses on itself.