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What Aircraft Carrier Race?

July 6, 2009
Former Russian carrier Varyag in Chinese possession.

Former Russian carrier Varyag in Chinese possession.

Hopefully you won’t see us contradicting a New Wars article on a regular basis, but a recent post here declaring an ongoing aircraft carrier race (New Naval Race Much Like the Old) similar to the Great Dreadnought Race of 100 years ago, might be seen in a different light. With plans for new Royal Navy 60,000 ton flattops delayed because of budget cuts, we might wonder how can there be a naval race if only one is in the running? First this from the original post:

As with the nautical marvels of 100 years ago, the Dreadnought battleship, a new naval race is brewing in the world today, this time with the building of large deck aircraft carriers…There are currently 21 aircraft carriers and numerous aviation capable ships in the navies of the world today, with more than half belonging to the US Navy. There are also 7 such vessels under construction, with China, Russia, and India expressing interest in acquiring up to 6 for their respective fleets. In future decades America intends to replace the 10-strong Nimitz class with 10 similar Ford class aircraft carriers, the first of which is already under construction. Recently Japan has commissioned a new “helicopter destroyer” that some claim could also operate V/STOL aircraft at some future date, causing surrounding nations such as South Korea to plan such ships for themselves.

The carrier race has become one-sided. Certainly we are told by the Chinese and Russians they are planning their own giant decks, but we have little proof of this other than rumors and promises from these not-entirely-trustworthy sources. Even so it would take at least a decade to see a new-build ship in service, and each would need appropriate naval aircraft and sophisticated escorts costing a considerable sum to produce.

It could also be these masters of asymmetrical warfare could be distracting us into building a smaller conventional battle fleet, all the while preparing for a more unconventional war . In this scenario our handful of giant attack carriers would be overwhelmed with swarms of guided missiles fired by submarines, aircraft, and fast attack ships. Such a strategy would be more in sync with the old Soviet Navy plans, and with Asian philosophy in general in which “All warfare is based on deception.

Consistent delays with the Royal Navy’s 2 new supercarriers is glaring proof of the difficulties involved in producing a naval air arm from scratch. Recently a new missile destroyer intended to protect HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales went to sea without her main armament in operation, revealing the technical hurdles involved even for a major Western power.

A decade of so down the road, if a peer adversary finally overcomes the enormous challenges of deploying a carrier fleet, none would be a match for a 100,000 ton, 90 aircraft capable Nimitz/Ford class, in number of aircraft, quality of training, or efficiently run launch and recovery sequence. Experience counts for much in wartime, and the US Navy has the art of the deploying naval aircraft down to a science. (Warning: analogy ahead)

In truth you could only compare the new naval race like the old, if back then if Germany promised to build 6 new super-battleships after the launch of Britain’s HMS Dreadnought in 1906. Even so these would be only about half the size of the Royal Navy’s revolutionary warship and only carry half or even 1/3 the guns.

The closest to a peer rival would have to be the US Navy of the period, but again her ships would only be 2/3 to 1/2 the size of the British battlewagon. Also, thanks to Budget Cuts these will likely be almost a decade in entering service, yet still the USN would have to cancel the purchase of new construction, and sell off still new cruisers, destroyers, and submarines to pay for them. Then when they do enter service they might not have their main gun battery installed!

India has been trying to replace it's aged ex-British carriers for decades.

India has been trying to replace it's aged ex-British carriers for decades.

Please forgive this little analogy, but hopefully you will get my point. With only the USA continuing their building and deployment of large decks, the only nation to do so continually since World War 2, it can hardly be called a carrier race. With so little competition, we would hope the USA or even Britain might rethink the policy of projecting power with such large and hard to build decks, spending precious defense dollars on more small combatants for use in shallow seas, or better still, on our troops currently in contact with the enemy in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 14, 2009 2:35 pm

    The problem isn’t so much the planes, which they have, they need ships to fly them off, since the new carrier from Russia is so much delayed.

  2. pavan kulkarni permalink
    November 14, 2009 1:23 pm

    why not india devlope own fighter position?

  3. DesScorp permalink
    July 6, 2009 10:55 am

    The Russians may be blowing smoke about new carriers, but the Chinese are not. The Dragon desires Superpower status, and that means carriers. They’ll be shrewd about how they’re going to do it… and patient. But the Chinese carriers are coming.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink
    July 6, 2009 7:57 am

    Alex, even if built I think they will mainly be for show. If we have a war at sea, it will between missile firing ships, submarines, and aircraft. The carriers will be there to mop up, or at the surrender ceremonies, like USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay!

  5. Alex. permalink
    July 6, 2009 7:16 am

    ok to follow on; what i said made it sound like there are going to be 2 Vikramadityas, i meant that both Vikramaditya and the 2 vikrants

  6. Alex. permalink
    July 6, 2009 7:14 am

    China have promised to build aircraft carriers but the truth is that’s unlikely for many moons to come, In india Viraat is about 50 years old, however in 10 years time it is likely that both Vikramaditya and both Vikrant carriers will be in service russia have pledged to have a 6 carrier navy by 2050 or so i think… i’ll beleive that when i see it.


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