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Time is Ripe for USN Ski-Jump Carriers

July 6, 2009
12 degree ski jump on HMS Invincible

12 degree ski jump on HMS Invincible

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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Cal permalink
    June 13, 2015 1:17 am

    The time for the USN to include ski-jumps on its amphibious ships was decades ago. Deliberately hobbling their capabilities out of fear that Congress might use them as an excuse to cut production of full-sized aircraft carriers is idiocy. If a warship has its capability deliberately crippled before it even enters service, what’s the point of even having it in the fleet?

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 2, 2009 5:58 am

    Thanks SS!

  3. October 2, 2009 5:09 am

    An answer to Heretic’s trick question: “Can the F-35B make *advantageous* use of a ski-jump to fly off a carrier deck?”

    Press Release Number: E200906291 29-Jun-09

    [b]EAF enables JSF landing anywhere, everywhere [/b]

    “EAF=Expeditionary Airfield …it also doubles as the run-up for a test “ski-jump” used in conjunction with JSF testing for the British Royal Navy. The AM-2 matting and the 12-degree ski-jump ramp were installed at the centerfield area last month.”
    “JSF program experts explain that the ski-jump is a more fuel efficient way for aircraft take-off.” & “The mock ski-jump is 150-feet long, with a 15-foot high “lip” for aircraft launch. These shore-based ski-jump takeoffs will be conducted at varying airspeeds prior to the first UK ship detachment with the F-35B. “We are extremely excited about getting the first of eight F-35’s to Patuxent River beginning this summer. The first aircraft to arrive, a STOVL aircraft designated BF-1, will use test facilities we have built to test and verify the unique warfighting capabilities the STOVL variant brings.”

  4. July 7, 2009 5:56 am

    yes I know Mike, and do you know who is in charge of procuring the next generation of tanks for the army? an air force officer, who is in charge of outfitting the RAF regiment with its next gen weapons to defend airfields…you guessed it an RN general service (that is Surface Fleet) officer….do you get the picture now, you say that the Pentagon is ‘scr*wed up’ they go nothing on us!

    yours sincerly


  5. Distiller permalink
    July 6, 2009 11:34 pm

    CVF should be long enough to ski-jump in CTOL configuration with afterburner and wind-over-deck, even with external loads. Of course it would take a lot of flight deck space, but in case they really go for rolling landings they will need to keep the flight deck free in any case. Now, let’s have the Hawkeye jump and land without cables!

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    July 6, 2009 7:49 pm

    Original Alex. I had no knowledge of this. Interesting!

  7. Alex. permalink
    July 6, 2009 4:09 pm

    whether F-35 has optimum characteristics for a ski-ramp or not a ski-ramp will still shave 50 yards+(rough estimate, i’ve not seen any published figures) off of the TO Run alternatively will serve to get more kit into the sky.. either way there is little loss, it’s not a ASW carrier so it’s not really losing a landing spot.

  8. July 6, 2009 4:00 pm

    Mike but you must remember the F35B and the Carrier are both ‘perfect MOD projects’ – the carriers are run by an army infantry Brigadier with no knowledge of anything to do with naval warfar, and no naval officers attached. Whilst the F35B is being run by a Sub Driver, with a RAF officer who has never served in a harrier squadron, let alone on a carrier being the only air qualified officer in the committe!

    so don’t expect anything to work properly; if the Soviet Union has taught us one thing, anything designed by comittee where there is only collective responsibility, and that is very weak, will always be SH*T!!

    yours sincerly


  9. Mike Burleson permalink
    July 6, 2009 3:33 pm

    Heretic, if you are right about the F-35B, then the Brits are in for a shock because they have staked all on the assumption that these will work with their new ski jump supercarriers.

  10. Alex. permalink
    July 6, 2009 2:04 pm

    ^^ i’ll second what Alex said

    I’m assuming that this proposal has it’s roots in the CVV concept of 1980s? (although IIRC CVV designnation of CV-VTOL it had 2 cats and was 1000′ in length)

  11. July 6, 2009 1:29 pm

    actually catapults are way better than ski-jumps…afterall catapults can launch AEW, and fully loaded aircraft.

    yours sincerly


  12. Heretic permalink
    July 6, 2009 12:20 pm

    Trick question:
    Can the F-35B make *advantageous* use of a ski-jump to fly off a carrier deck?

    This is not an idle question.

    Part of what makes the Harrier work so well with a ski jump is that it is able to vector its thrust through a full 98 degrees (full aft through 8 degrees forward of straight down). Furthermore, the thrust angle is at all times under manual pilot control.

    This is not the case in the F-35B.

    In the (*snort*) “brilliant” design of the F-35B, it was decided early on that vertical landings (and by extension, take offs) would be handled automatically. That means, push a button to run a computer program to take you from thrust lift only to wings lift only (and vice-versa). The whole transition sequence has been automated in the 35B with the intent to reduce pilot workload (which is not a bad idea, in and of itself, around landings).

    In other words … if this is going to happen at all, there needs to be some flight testing scheduled to explore this end of the flight envelope, to find the limits of the design when making use of a ski-jump assisted take off.

    Good thing there’s plenty of time left in the flight testing schedule to investigate all kinds of neat opportunities like this that could revolutionize aviation at sea ON THE CHEAP!

    Where’d everybody go?


  1. Aircraft Carriers:The ‘Bigger is Better’ Myth Pt 1 « New Wars

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