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More News Of Empty Carrier Decks

August 25, 2009

motivator7120b5541735dd1c498c261c59101848fb555d57This amazing story on the travails of building modern warships is from the Times of India:

As it is, India solitary aircraft carrier, the 50-year-old INS Viraat, is being flogged to ensure it can operate for another five years.
To make matters worse, Navy is fast running out of fighter jets to operate from its deck.

This is just another example of how the utter lack of long-term strategic planning and execution continues to be a bane for India, which harbours notions of being a major player on the global stage. The crash of another Sea Harrier jump-jet off Goa on Friday, which killed its pilot, means Navy is left with barely eight single-seater fighters and three twin-seater trainers.

“A carrier without fighters is like a tiger without teeth,” said a senior officer.

I continue to marvel how dependent world navies are on these extremely costly monuments whose roles are increasingly taken by smaller, cheaper alternatives, while the ships themselves are an increasing drag on stretched thin budgets. Since at least the 1960s, the carrier has been in competition with the cruise missile for its relevance, as with such increasingly smart weapons (UAVs as reusable cruise missiles) every warship can now be an aircraft carrier. Much like the flattops first sank the battleships, then displaced them in importance, so will her antagonist the cruise missile-firing warship soon displace the more costly and escort dependent ships on the high seas, and in many ways already has!

17 Comments leave one →
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  3. montra--trimek--pig--thailand permalink
    May 6, 2013 10:00 pm

    bigger warship aircraft modern

  4. montra--trimek--pig--thailand permalink
    May 6, 2013 9:59 pm


  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 26, 2009 5:35 am

    Thats a great photo. Thanks Justine!

  6. November 26, 2009 2:33 am

    actually this is ins veerat

  7. Monish permalink
    September 24, 2009 4:21 am

    To all well wishers …I would like to say one thing that ..the image shown here is not Indian INS Viraat …Its US navy’s super carrier…!
    Because INS did a refitting in 98 and added a ski jump and some weapons on its deck and it have 2 caterpiler pull wires …! So having an old pic and fighting and argguing 4 some non-sense is just non-sense.

  8. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 26, 2009 8:24 pm

    Apparently India has grounded all their Sea Harriers.

  9. elgatoso permalink
    August 26, 2009 4:54 pm

    mike ,you said
    ” our pilots would be flying new build F-15s and F-16s, which are good enough for the wars we fight today, unlike the heavenly capable but little earthly good F-22 Raptor.”
    I was thinking that if the good F-22 Raptor was not unsustainable or we would be flying new build F-15s and F-16s,the UAS revolution ain’t happen because every armed service is conservative in nature.So,the gold plated weapons give birth to the UAS revolution.
    every new tech is born in the demise of another one.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 26, 2009 4:44 pm

    Joe, if that “utter lack of long-term strategic planning and execution” is focused on the large deck carrier as the center of your naval universe, then it is all above gold-plated designs. If the carrier is your foundation, then every other warship revolves around defending this ship and enabling its mission. In the absence of enemy carriers, you invent the power projection role to justify the horrible expense, except historically navies don’t not attack land powers, but that power’s shipping.

    But if you think that your weapons, whether they are V/STOL aircraft, cruise missiles, or hopefully soon armed drones at sea, then naturally such individually powerful weapons might be spread out, and naturally you get a bigger fleet. If your eyes are focused on fighting the deceive battle, you build a small number of more powerful battleships. Looking at the big picture though, you might focus on what comes after the Battle of Trafalgar or Midway, which is protecting merchant vessels, operating in narrow seas, mine sweeping, and so on. These myriad and important duties can’t be done by your carrier or missile battleships, nor are such exquisite ships required. In all wars in all history, the small ship is essential for maintaining the peace close to shore, and for guarding the giant ships from small threats.

    I am not against a battlefeet, just a top heavy navy who insists only such vessels can perform the command of the sea, when historically this has never been the case. This is why we don’t fight pirates, and are suffering a presence deficit everywhere.

  11. Joe permalink
    August 26, 2009 1:20 pm


    I don’t disagree with the overall notion that reform needs to break out inside the 5 walls of the Pentagon. For example, we’d not begin to accept personal delivery of a $100,000 Toyota Camry when we were told it would only be $30,000, but we’re supposed to shut up and buy when it’s the LCS, the F-22, or the FCS and similar multiples are at work. That’s gotta change.

    I feel that the article you quoted from the Time of India is referencing an EXCELLENT example of what it calls “…another example of {an} utter lack of long-term strategic planning and execution”.

    I think your well-formed arguments about the UK (in past posts) are a much better example of gold-plating in action…and what it leads to: sustaining something that is unsustainable for a single, illogical reason. Cue Gordon Brown: We are committed to building aircraft carriers. They give work to all parts of the country.

    I think a lack of L-T strategic planning and execution can exist independently of an addiction to gold-plating. That is how I’m arguing it here. If we disagree, then disagree we must!

  12. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 26, 2009 6:37 am

    Joe, the reason these sound like two arguments is because we are living in an age of transition, where more conventional arms are being displaced by cheaper robot weapons, but we aren’t there yet. I think we can drastically reduce the size of conventional forces, especially aircraft carriers, because precision weaponry developed near the end of the Cold War has made such weapons so much more capable. But trying to keep building these gold-plated platforms in traditional numbers has become unbearable even for regional superpowers like India, and global powers like Britain and America.

    This is not a recent problem. The USN never reached their goal of 15 aircraft carriers with the 600 ship Navy (unless you count the last Essex USS Lexington training carrier). By the 1990s the F-14 Tomcat was in desperate need for replacement, and the Super Hornet came on line just in time. It only happened because the USN put away traditional bias of buying off the shelf and compromised with this not excellent, but very adequate design in an era where the weapons a platform carries is more important than the platform itself.

    Yes I do like the SP and I especially like the procurement process the Navy used to deploy it. If the USAF had done the same, our pilots would be flying new build F-15s and F-16s, which are good enough for the wars we fight today, unlike the heavenly capable but little earthly good F-22 Raptor. But I see the Navy plane as a transition, not the future.

  13. Distiller permalink
    August 26, 2009 2:38 am

    An aircraft carrier is an offensive mission system for power projection. That’s a capability that India is just starting to think about. Whatever equipment they have now, in 20 years when their power projection ambitions might become more real, it will be completely different, and the personnel will have changed once or twice. The combat capability of their Harriers is close to zero in any case, and a single carrier is of little value anyway. A purely symbolic force.

    Parallels to the U.S.? Not too many, I think. The U.S. power projection ambitions against possible tier one enemies (China, Russia, EU) are not realistic or would be played nuclear, so that leaves those colonial campaigns we see today, or proxy wars in the future. In any case a SHornet is a 10-time overkill. When the Admiral said the Navy is not made to fight, he was right, because there are either too large and dangerous enemies, or rowdy have-nots that could not even defend themselves against a WW2 task force.

    It’s the lack of mission, not the lack of planning.

  14. Joe permalink
    August 26, 2009 1:57 am


    You are trying to merge two separate arguments in this thread.

    Whether aircraft carriers are obsolete or not has nothing to do with whether or not a given MoD or DoD is staffing those platforms with sufficient planes. Indeed, the article you quote & show on this page says, This {situation} is just another example of how the utter lack of long-term strategic planning and execution continues to be a bane for India.

    Since long-term strategic planning and execution is usually done by individuals who can be accused of also having membership in the bureaucracy, it sounds like India is suffering a slow-moving man-made error to me…not a reading from the Book of Obsolescence.

    Our President & Sec Def would rather sign off on a known and coming fighter gap that would severely cripple our flattop fleet than commit to purchasing sufficient numbers of the Super Hornet, a plane that you once said is more desirable than ever in an era of constricting defense budgets and meets your own standards for utility in that the power of modern weapons such as precision bombs, cruise missiles, and AMRAAM air to air missiles don’t necessarily need a super fighter or stealth bomber for its effect to be felt upon the enemy. They just need a ride!

    If this pending decision by our President and Sec Def doesn’t sound like a darned good example of an utter lack of long-term strategic planning and execution, on their part, then I don’t know what is.

  15. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 25, 2009 6:46 pm

    It is the bureaucracy’s fault for every world navy having trouble seeking to deploy large deck carriers: the Brits, the Russians, the Chinese now the Indians, and even America with her faulty new catapult and fighter gap? This is occurring too often and widespread to put it down to man-made error. Sure the government can royally screw things up, but this is just a symptom of the growing obsolescence of such high tech platforms.

  16. Joe permalink
    August 25, 2009 6:00 pm

    Solomon said: The issue is with the bureaucracy not with the platform.

    Isn’t that the truth? We have but one in-production option for carrier aircraft here, a short-legged jet that our political leaders seem eager to terminate so as to leave us with a fighter gap of our own for years. But, of course, in the eyes of government, someone has decreed that as “logical”.

    Of course, cuts of or reorganizations to military spending never involve cuts to the levels of bureaucracy or # of b-crats themselves.

  17. August 25, 2009 3:07 pm

    TLAM’s are expensive and have little to no role in low intensity warfare. The Indian Navy’s problem is the lack of aircraft and poor planning. They have not replenished the number of Sea Harriers for quite a while and they’ve been crashing them at an alarming rate. The issue is with the bureaucracy not with the platform.

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