Aircraft Carrier Fleet May Fall to 7
Has there ever been a case in history where a battleship was sent to defend a nation without her guns? This bizarre scenario may actually occur unless the US Navy deals with it’s “fighter gap” of several hundred warplanes. From DoD Buzz we learn:
At a discussion this week on the Navy’s “fighter gap” at the Center for National Policy in Washington, one of the defense world’s most knowledgeable sources on all things Navy, CRS’ Ron O’Rourke, tried to put a definitive number on that “gap.” From the Navy’s public statements, O’Rourke calculated the number at anywhere between 125 and 243 aircraft, although some in industry contend it’s 300 or more. The peak of this shortfall is projected to occur around 2015; the Navy contends a shortage of strike-fighters could reduce the number of available carriers from 11 to seven around that time.
An interesting phenomena in recent decades has been the dramatic increase in aircraft carrier size, while the number of warplanes needed on her spacious decks have actually declined. With the advent of new precision bombs in modern warfare, widespread use at sea not starting until the 1990’s, naval aircraft are more capable than ever. With one plane (or UAV) having the ability to destroy a target once required of huge airwings and multiple sorties, it only stands to reason we have entered a revolution in carrier power, which a few big decks with sizable numbers of strike bombers fail to adequately take advantage of. Yet the Navy still insists our shrinking number of 100,000 ton flattops with their 90 warplanes are the only way to deploy airpower at sea!
One person who says carrier numbers should be rethought is strategist Frank Hoffman, who argued in a recent CNAS paper that at an estimated $11 billion for the new Ford class carrier, large deck carriers are too costly, too oriented towards open-ocean fighting between battle fleets and air wings are too short ranged. The Navy should reduce the number of carriers to no more than 8 and should emphasize long range unmanned strike aircraft such as the N-UCAS and make more innovative use of the aviation-capable large deck amphibious ships for forward presence and power projection, Hoffman said.
We still see a great need for naval airpower, but it should be spread among a many small ships, rather than a handful of large ones. Such a strategy would take better advantage of the individual capabilities of modern aircraft equipped with smart bombs and missiles. I can see a group of small corvettes each able to launch 2-3 UCAVs so armed as a carrier replacement for many functions, such as supporting troops in a land battle.
The strategy we cling to perhaps for nostalgia reasons emphasizes the ship is more important than the weapon she carries. But what is a battleship without her guns but a hollow shell?
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