The Aircraft Carrier Gap
Recent 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.