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The Aircraft Carrier Gap

September 17, 2009

carriersRecent news continues to prove our point, that there will never be enough large carriers for the roles set for them by the US Navy, and why we should consider alternatives. This story from the Navy Times details that “Big E stuck in yard; Nimitz, Truman extended“:

Navy officials on Friday extended the deployments for two aircraft carrier strike groups – Nimitz and Harry S. Truman – by nearly two months each to cover the expected gap in carrier coverage caused by shipyard delays in the maintenance overhaul of the carrier Enterprise.
Each deployment will run just under eight months, U.S. Pacific Fleet officials in Hawaii and U.S. Fleet Forces Command officials in Virginia announced in a joint statement. “The Navy remains committed to its general policy of maintaining deployment lengths to manage personnel tempo as essential components of force readiness,” officials said.

“Committed” sure, but by building only handful of ships expected to do the work of very many, you only get continued lengthy missions, increased wear and tear on ships, and more importantly long deployments for worn out crews. Do the math Navy! A few Big Decks might seen rational in peacetime, but try looking at it from the sailor’s viewpoint who has to do double duty on the shrinking US Fleet. In a separate article the Times details Impact of Nimitz extension ‘profound’:

The admiral in charge of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group acknowledged Monday that the decision to extend the deployment of his group to eight months will have a “profound impact” on sailors and families, according to a news release…The extension of Nimitz, which is in the Bay of Bengal, also affects the five other ships in its strike group.

So we call for alternatives, which rely more on available assets, and less on manpower intensive vessels. In many cases, and especially the low tech wars we most often have to fight, cruise missile firing vessels, the TLAM warships we mentioned in a recent posting, plus even Marine light carriers can stand in for the flattops. The need for aggressively deploying UAVs to sea is overdue, which could be married to auxiliary warships, motherships, within new Influence Squadrons. The possibilities for easing the sailor’s workload are endless, but the Navy dallies while the fleet sinks under over-deployments.

Even Big Deck advocate Raymond Pritchett seems worried:

It is not unreasonable that the ~48 year old Enterprise would run into issues in a major maintenance period. Those types of problems can pop up in very old ships like Enterprise. I also don’t think this event makes a case against the early retirement of Enterprise. If anything, it validates the decision because Enterprise is clearly too old and too expensive to keep on life support. What this issue does do though is directly raise questions about how many aircraft carriers the Navy needs to operate, and whether numbers – and not cost – needs to be a more significant factor in aircraft carrier planning. ADM Roughead is on record saying 11, while Gates is saying 10. Congress is going to have to decide, because 11 only happens with more money.

So one more giant supercarrier and all problems solved? That’s ambition I tell you! But the USN could have 15 Big Decks very easily if they gut their surface fleet in an aggressive manner, as the Brits are doing to afford the 2 Queen Elizabeth class. But that would likely give you just a 100 ship Navy, and what to do if war comes and you suddenly need many smaller vessels to screen the Task Force, as we have pointed out all week in our study of the Battle of Okinawa.

The writer goes on to ask “how do you replace the influence of a CVN?” Clearly with Influence Squadrons as we mentioned. Aside from the fact that we continue to use the world’s largest, most expensive warship for these little Brush Fire wars, the Navy needs to think in terms of cost-effectiveness, otherwise you go bankrupt. As we often insist you can’t manage sea control with battleships alone (as Mr Pritchett himself has pointed out). The Navy must find a better way of projecting power ashore rather than a few giant decks, with a single one costing the price of of the annual shipbuilding budget. The answer of course is guided missiles and alternative aircraft like V/STOL and UAVs, which you don’t need battleships to launch from, as he points out:

If Russia and Georgia were to get into a political dispute, the arrival of LCS-1 and LCS-2 in support of Georgia isn’t going to influence the Black Sea Fleet much. However, what if the Navy pulled into the Black Sea with 4 LCS and 16 small corvettes, each armed with 4-8 ASMs?

Big ships for the Big Wars, small ships for the small ones. It seems so simple, and if we thought in these terms, we see the need for only a handful of large decks. Smaller corvettes, backed by our Burke destroyers should be forward deployed , with the supercarriers at home for training or refit, pulled out only for a crises. Here is where the intimidation factor would set in, because the enemy would knows if you are pulling out your Big Guns you really mean business. But if you are constantly waving your belt in their face (as an analogy), and doing nothing but make threats, then the kids no longer take you seriously.

For more read The Ignored Aircraft Carrier Alternatives.

9 Comments leave one →
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  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 26, 2009 9:44 am

    Patriotism seems to be an ugly word for many Americans but here are the Chinese displaying it proudly.

  4. Armchair Chinese Admiral permalink
    September 26, 2009 5:24 am

    I do not know how to post an independent article so I will use this comment section to write this.

    In a few days time China will celebrate the 60th anniversary of her founding with a grand military parade. This once a decade event will see the state of China’s armed forces and the latest military hardware China can field. Everything will be done to make the day perfect including fixing the weather. The last one in 1999 was very impressive and an excellent DVD of the event is available though not in any North American Chinatown video store I had visited. I got mine in Beijing. Excerpts of the parade are available on Youtube

    I hope our North American TV newscasts will provide extensive coverage of the event. The item I wish to bring your attention to is The Display of Flags. In page 109 “Flags of China” in
    National Geographical “Atlas of China” Quote: Maintaining national unity across its far flung territories has often been a problem for China. Local people have sometimes created flags and attempted to assert independence. Chinese rulers, regardless of political philosophies, have sought to unite everyone under one symbol and one ruler. Chinese recognition of special flags for Hong Kong and Macao in 1997 and 1999 was considered a major concession. No other cities or units of government have that privilege. Chinese centralist policies today place an unofficial ban on distinctive flags for cities, cities and even organizations.

    Take at a look of that Youtube video. At the head of the parade is a single PLA flag (Yellow star, two Chinese characters 8 and 1 representing the founding date of the Red Army on August 1, 1927, on a red field.) There are no other flags. There is no PLA ground forces flag, no PLA Air Force flag and no PLA Navy flag although they exist. The PLA is a single unified force. There are no military units with distinctive names or their own regimantal flags. On that day only a single China National Flag (Large yellow star bordered by four satellite stars on a red field) will fly on the north side of Tienanmen Square. The march past states that the PLA is subordinate to the state. This is a national event and the (CPC) party has no place in it (I haven’t seen the civilian parade that follows the military parade to know for sure.) All other flags on public buildings that day if any will just be plain colored sheets of fabric. I will be looking for the same symbolism in the 60th National day Parade.

    Do purcahse that NG Atlas. It contains excellent maps including a composite satellite map (pg 12, 13) that at one look shows that China has terrain unsuitable for mechanized warfare. The following map (pg 14, 15) shows China’s continental shelf and the obstacles a foreign navy would have to deal with. The map and writeup (pp 70, 71) Military Strength has a map on China’s reach with her missile defenses.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 17, 2009 1:38 pm

    “TLAM shooters have their place, but TLAMs are a very expensive way to deliver firepower. ”

    Tarl I agree with you here and I wasn’t calling on them to do close air support, but I was thinking of the intimidation factor and presence the Big Decks currently do. We just don’t have enough giant hulls to do all the functions required of them(this is the Navy saying this, not yours truly), they are just too expensive and the cost is getting worse. But we 80 TLAM surface ships and 50 submarines. We have them now. Lets use them instead of giving up on allies or essential missions.

    Hopefully we will some day forward deploy some influence squadrons equipped with less costly littoral ships, but right now we should take best advantage of the Navy and resources we have.

  6. Tarl permalink
    September 17, 2009 1:20 pm

    Here is some food for thought for you:

    “TLAMs, like CALCMs, are over 80 times more expensive than a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). The cost differential with direct-attack munitions such as JDAMs and laser-guided bombs (LGBs) alone makes TLAM and the USAF’s CALCM niche munitions for precision strike except for small-scale punitive strikes such as Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, when over 300 of these missiles were expended against targets in Iraq.13 By contrast, during the major US combat operations of 1991, 1999, 2001-02 and 2003 (Operations Desert Storm. Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom), the US military expended over 53,000 guided munitions (excluding ground-force guided munitions such as the helicopter-launched Hellfire). TLAMs constituted only 2.6 percent of this total and CALCMs but another 0.5 percent, whereas JDAMs and LGBs together totaled over 78 percent. The standoff land attack capability provided by the Navy, therefore, is of far more limited utility than the large and growing number of VLS tubes suggests. For major campaigns, the bulk of the guided munitions expended are likely to remain direct-attack munitions such as JDAMs and LGBs for some time to come.”

    TLAM shooters have their place, but TLAMs are a very expensive way to deliver firepower. JDAMs are much more cost-effective. To deliver JDAMs, the Navy needs aircraft carriers. Large carriers are, in turn, a more efficient way to deliver JDAMs than small carriers.

    Another issue is that TLAMs are a terrible way to attack mobile targets and provide CAS to troops ashore. Fixed-wing aircraft with JDAMs are essential for both these missions, and for the Navy and Marines, that means aircraft carriers are needed.

  7. west_rhino permalink
    September 17, 2009 11:18 am

    And how many S-3 Vikings are available for ASW? Between those and the screwtops (and it seems litttle bitty french carriers can operate the screwtop) are the ONLY rationale I can find for putting such a big postage stamp out there as a target… (why does the Battle of Britain “Big Wing” theory come to mind?)


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