Aircraft Carriers:The ‘Bigger is Better’ Myth Pt 2
Yesterday we examined the drawbacks of depending exclusively on large deck aircraft carriers for naval airpower and how the expense outweighs its usefulness. For instance:
- Sortie rate doesn’t matter as much bombing effectiveness and loitering ability.
- The Navy justifies the deployment of the world’s most expensive ships by their use against Third World land powers with modest military abilities at best.
- Carriers are too vulnerable to risk against peer adversaries with anti-access weapons. Such weapons may even be in the hands of low tech Hybrid Powers.
- New technology is dramatically easing our dependence on giant ships, which are a consistent drain on the shrinking ship building budget.
Amazingly some still contend we can’t get along without the supercarrier, shielded by powerful anti-missile escorts, and deep diving nuclear subs, protected by up to 90 warplanes of various types. Here is Raymond Pritchett writing at the USNI website:
The only consideration where CVLs have a good argument is in terms of risk, because CVNs put a lot of eggs in one basket. It all comes down to the level of risk that is acceptable vs the level of cost, capacity, and capability desired for your naval force. I’ll take the big deck, at least 10 if possible, with its associated conventional launch capability and with the E-2D and EA-18G, I’ll whip any 4 VSTOL CVLs every single day of the century.
The claim that supercarriers are indispensable for modern warfare should set off the alarm bells, since the notion that only very large, very expensive platforms boasting the most powerful weapons, kept the all-gun battleship advocates blind to its weaknesses until far too late. While physically intimidating with armor up to 20 inches, and powerful guns able to lob a 2700 lb shell 25 miles, it was still vulnerable to a new simpler menace: tiny and swift flying wasps whose stingers included the precision weapons of the day, the air-launched torpedo and the deadly accurate dive bombing tactic.
Ironically, the author himself reveals doubts of today’s capital ship’s future survivability in the face of that ultimate scourge of obsolete weapons, fiscal reality. From Information Dissemination we learn the following:
The FY 2007 defense authorization act established a procurement cost cap for USS Ford (CVN 78) of $10.5 billion, plus adjustments for inflation and other factors. It also established a procurement cost cap for subsequent Ford class carriers of $8.1 billion each, plus adjustments for inflation and other factors. It is unclear what the cost impact of shifting the CVN 79 procurement date one year to FY 2013 (instead of FY 2012) and the CVN 80 procurement date by two years to FY 2018 (instead of FY2016) will be, but odds are very good this will increase, not decrease, the cost of building Ford class nuclear aircraft carriers. The Ford class is already suffering cost growth, and the full extent of what the total cost growth might be with many outstanding questions is still unknown. There does not appear to be many cost saving options available due to the US economic situation.
We now also know for a certain the fleet will soon drop to 9 carriers, rumors of which were reported last week:
There is a dirty little secret though, the operational aircraft carrier number will already drop to 9, not 10, long before the Ford enters service.
Anyone want to give me 8?
I’ve even heard the number 8 operational carriers bounced around, under a more aggressive retirement plan…
We don’t presume to say Mr Pritchett has given up on the fight to maintain a conventional, large deck, carrier-centric force in the US Navy, despite the odds rising against such exquisite vessels in an age of austerity in defense. We can only hope though, the doubts revealed in his own post are shared by the Navy leadership, who hold the future of the fleet in their hands. Time to consider many less costly ships able to perform many roles instead of a few Big Decks preparing to fight a Blue Water conflict no longer imminent or even likely.
Tomorrow we fight for the right to GO LIGHT!