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Carrier Diversity Thursday

October 1, 2009

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With the Navy’s new emphasis on personnel diversity, we would like to see the same standard applied to shipbuilding, especially what is considered its capital ship for almost 70 years, the large deck aircraft carrier. With the fleet continuing to shrink, and sailors forced into continuous lengthy deployments, now is the time to rethink this single minded strategy which limits the Navy’s alternatives and weakens America’s seapower.

The US Navy in a Panic?

Here is Peter Hartcher at the National Times on the much discussed Chinese carrier-killing ballistic missiles:

In March, an analyst with the US Navy Institute, Raymond Pritchett, wrote that the news of this new weapon had “created a panic” in the US Navy…

(Analyst Randy) Schriver, a former navy intelligence officer who went on to become deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific in the second Bush administration, says the implications are profound: “After the Taiwan crisis in 1996, the Chinese looked at it and said, ‘what do we need to do to prevent the US intervening like this again?'”

The result, 13 years later, is the Dong Feng 21. “It’s a technological leap that’s never [before] been made,” says Schriver, now the head of a non-partisan research body, Project 2049 Institute, and a founding partner of the consulting firm Armitage International…

“The Chinese would have the ability to hold our carriers at a great distance – it almost makes the aircraft carriers obsolete.

“What did we do in 1996? We sent carriers. What are the Chinese doing? Taking the carriers out of the equation.” He thinks it prudent to expect such missiles to be operating within a couple of years.

No wonder the US Navy is in a panic.

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Outstanding Quote:

We must ask ourselves first whether the impact of the aircraft carrier upon our only imaginable enemies in a future great war is likely to justify the cost involved-whether its action in an improbable war is likely to hurt them more than its cost will certainly damage us, war or no war; and whether there is any vital interest of our own than can only be secured, or secured less expensively by other means, by the aircraft carrier…Secondly, we must satisfy ourselves that the carrier has a reasonable chance of remaining afloat in the face of modern methods of attack.

Former marshal of the RAF Sir John Slessor writing in Strategy for the West.

*****

The High Price for Prestige

We often insist the large deck aircraft carrier is more of a prestige weapon than an essential requirement for modern navies, much like the all-gun Dreadnoughts were a century ago. India, in a desperate bid to replace her old-ex British carriers, but also to make good her reputation as a modern rising power, sought to quickly add a refurbished ex-Soviet flattop to its arsenal, all at a bargain price. Things have not worked out as promised and India has now learned the High Cost of High Tech, according to Strategypage:

The original price for the refurbishment of the of the Gorshkov was $1.5 billion. Building a Gorshkov type carrier today would cost about $4 billion, and take eight years. Two years ago, the Russians admitted there were problems, and demanded another half billion dollars to make it all right. India went along with that. But last year, the Russians raised the price again, and now wanted $3.5 billion for the job, and an additional four years. The Indians refused to pay. The Russians were willing to admit to mistakes and put things right, for a price.

Meanwhile, the Chinese haven’t sat idly by during India’s faltering bid for greatness. In another article on Strategypage we learn:

The head of the Indian Navy has been complaining about Chinese warships being more numerous, and more frequently  showing up in the Indian Ocean…India is particularly annoyed at China intruding into the waters surrounding India. It’s not called the Indian Ocean for nothing, and the Indians consider these waters sacrosanct. Chinese naval power is not welcome.

We often worry when navies try to create a USA light fleet, with large carriers, superdestroyers, and nuclear subs. All these may work and are very impressive on paper, but in wartime exquisite ships are just as easy to sink and cheaper vessels, maybe more so because they make a tempting target for an ambitious captain out to make a name for himself. As we see in the articles above, such giant and technically troubled programs easily cut into ship numbers as well. Advice to India: build more submarines and lots of them, not necessarily of the nuclear kind, and many small missile firing surface ships. It would be better for a weaker navy to be a sea-denier instead of a power projector, as the Chinese might think twice before going to war if they have to count the High Price for doing so.

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 The Case for Smaller Carriers

The British Royal Navy proved the viability for small carriers in modern warfare in the 1982 Falklands Conflict, as an alternative to Big Decks. Despite these hard won lessons, today the Royal Navy has their eyes set on the traditional flattop once again as the center of the fleet, yet the price they are paying may be too much for the shrinking service to bear. This is from the Daly History blog:

The Royal Navy faces a particularly though time, as it has committed itself to two huge 60,000 ton aircraft carriers, at the expense of frigates and destroyers. Indeed, the new Type 45 Destroyer was cut from a planned 12 ships to an eventual order for 6, which of course is nowhere near enough. There are as yet no firm plans to replace the Type 22 and Type 23 Frigates. Ships can only be in one place at any time, and for every ship on duty, you have to plan for at least 1, possibly 2 being in port or refit.

One cannot help if we might have been better served with several smaller, cheaper aircraft carriers and more escorts to protect them. The first Aircraft Carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will be safe as work has already started on her and it would cost more to cancel her. But the second, HMS Prince of Wales, will almost certainly come under threat. We could potentially be left with one huge and expensive to run aircraft carrier, which is far too inflexible.

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35 Comments leave one →
  1. Tarl permalink
    October 4, 2009 6:04 pm

    when your essential but most costly vessels start cutting into your escort, submarine, aircraft, and operating budgets, something is wrong here.

    You need at least the same number and type of escorts for a small CV as for a big one (arguably you need more escorts for a small CV, since the escorts will have to do more air defense). There is no point in buying all those expensive escorts to escort something that sucks (a small CV).

    I know, they won but didn’t win the right way.

    The fact that one can construct a scenario in which a small CV is viable does not mean that small CVs are viable in every scenario or in the most likely scenario. We should design for the most likely scenario – and the Falklands was a highly unlikely scenario.

    how do we know American Big Decks can do any better, since they have never operated with their carriers at risk. In recent Iraq Wars, they even sailed right into the Gulf to launch their planes, and also into the Taiwan Straits in the 1990s.

    Part of the reason they weren’t “at risk” was because they were big and the enemy didn’t dare to mess with them. I wouldn’t want to take small CVs anywhere near a remotely competent opponent.

    Can we always be assured of such desirable conditions for operating our naval air? Don’t bet on it.

    I don’t, but unlike you I think the more stressing scenario demands the bigger CVs, not the smaller ones. Air and cruise-missile defense of the fleet requires a large complement of large fighter aircraft and AEW aircraft, and that means a big CV.

    This excuse was used to justify the all-gun battleship long past its prime

    The battleship was not past its prime in WW2. Yes, they were sunk when they tried to sail alone and unafraid like the Prince of Wales and the Yamato, but they were highly effective when properly escorted and were often used as part of a balanced fleet. Similarly the large CV will remain highly effective if it is properly escorted and part of a balanced fleet.

    the guided missile destroyer, which thanks to modern technology is already replacing the carrier in importance in many roles,

    It isn’t and it won’t. The range and payload that a DDG can deliver over time is too limited compared to a CVN, and it is too expensive to fight a war with DDGs-launched cruise missiles.

    most recently the BMD mission where naval air is useless and may even be at risk.

    “Defense” is the raison d’etre of the new capital ship? Huh.

    In any event, the CVN will play an increasingly important role in missile defense thanks to air-launched boost-phase interceptors like NCADE.

    Soon the Aegis ship may throw off its role as a mere escort ship and reveal its full potential as an offensive weapon in its own right.

    BMD is an “offensive weapon”?

    wondering if it might one day be refined to the point of being to pick out even smaller-sized surface ships isn’t out of the question.

    We won’t know how small a ship is “safe” from these missiles, and we certainly won’t send smaller vessels in there to find out. Furthermore, the smaller CVs, even if they were safe from the ASBM, would be easy meat for the swarms of Flankers and air/surface/submarine-launched ASCMs the Chinese would throw at them.

  2. Joe K. permalink
    October 3, 2009 7:09 pm

    “When one weapon reaches the end of its useful lifespan, it is always replaced with something else, usually something much maligned as being too weak and vulnerable to survive. So the thin skinned carriers of the pre war era surprisingly became the new battleships.”

    You do realize that pre-WW2 the aircraft carrier’s role was still being experimented with and it wasn’t until the war that they realized its capabilities. The results didn’t just point to a diminished role of the battleship (which still had uses after WW2) but they also gave aircraft the ability to operate in areas where there weren’t nearby bases to launch from in crisis or combat situations.

  3. Joe permalink
    October 3, 2009 6:40 pm

    Tarl: “If the survivability of big CVs cannot be assured, then neither can the survivability of small CVs or surface ships”

    Mike: As you say “rubbish”. This excuse was used to justify the all-gun battleship long past its prime (I read it in a 1930s Encyclopedia Britannica). When one weapon reaches the end of its useful lifespan, it is always replaced with something else, usually something much maligned as being too weak and vulnerable to survive.

    ______________________________________________

    I think that Tarl has a point there. I’m biased as it’s one I made earlier in the thread, also. If one assumes that the Chinese Dong-Feng missiles achieve success in being able to target American carriers, then their software won’t be restricted to simply 100,000 Fords. Any large ship would stand out (as I said) be it a 21,000 ton Invincible or 100,000 Ford.

    I don’t think that point is “rubbish”. Perhaps the DF’s will never be successful. Maybe they’ll only be successful 1/3 of the time. Who knows? But, rhetorically, given that it’s a possibility they could successfully destroy surface vessels of notable size, then wondering if it might one day be refined to the point of being to pick out even smaller-sized surface ships isn’t out of the question.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 3, 2009 3:34 pm

    “all other navies exist and operate only on the sufferance of the USN.”

    Oh, sure, but since we are talking specifically about carriers, I insist it is not because of Big Decks alone that we have dominance, but it is a team effort, a balanced fleet. So when your essential but most costly vessels start cutting into your escort, submarine, aircraft, and operating budgets, something is wrong here. So we offer alternatives.

    “The crucial point is that the British were able to win because they were operating at the outer edge of the combat radius of Argentine land-based air.”

    I know, they won but didn’t win the right way. I hear that alot. But how do we know American Big Decks can do any better, since they have never operated with their carriers at risk. In recent Iraq Wars, they even sailed right into the Gulf to launch their planes, and also into the Taiwan Straits in the 1990s. Can we always be assured of such desirable conditions for operating our naval air? Don’t bet on it.

    “If the survivability of big CVs cannot be assured, then neither can the survivability of small CVs or surface ships”

    As you say “rubbish”. This excuse was used to justify the all-gun battleship long past its prime (I read it in a 1930s Encyclopedia Britannica). When one weapon reaches the end of its useful lifespan, it is always replaced with something else, usually something much maligned as being too weak and vulnerable to survive. So the thin skinned carriers of the pre war era surprisingly became the new battleships. Today’s battleships may be something else entirely like submarines or the guided missile destroyer, which thanks to modern technology is already replacing the carrier in importance in many roles, most recently the BMD mission where naval air is useless and may even be at risk. Soon the Aegis ship may throw off its role as a mere escort ship and reveal its full potential as an offensive weapon in its own right.

  5. Tarl permalink
    October 3, 2009 1:59 pm

    Does this mean all other navies in the world are irrelevant for this lack? Hardly.

    It does mean that all other navies exist and operate only on the sufferance of the USN.

    In the South Atlantic War, the British proved you didn’t need CTOL carriers to deploy naval airpower at sea. Those who minimize the lessons of the Falklands claim “sure they won but they didn’t win right”, misses this crucial point, that what an amazing achievement this was for a small navy, steaming thousands of miles beyond any friendly bases, with the Harriers outnumbered nearly 8-1, in some of the roughest weather on earth. The two tiny British flattops not only survived but prevailed though outnumbered in the air and ground war. Instead of proving the supercarrier so much more capable, it now seems so much overkill and an unnecessary burden.

    Rubbish. The crucial point is that the British were able to win because they were operating at the outer edge of the combat radius of Argentine land-based air. If the Brits had to get close-in to win, they’d have been toast. Even as it was, they only won because they got lucky (lots of Argentine bombs didn’t explode). A Navy that can’t come within effective range of the obsolete land-based aircraft of a third-rate power (and the British did not do so) is essentially worthless. Building such a Navy is a true waste of money. Our Navy influences regional powers because our carriers can annihilate the air force of any regional power smaller than China. A Navy composed of small CVs could not do so and would have no influence on regional powers. Why pay money for naval power projection that can’t really project power except under very narrow and exceptional parameters (as in the Falklands case)?

    Given the Aegies BDM effectiveness I wouldn’t give the Chinese missile much chance of getting through.

    The Chinese have certainly thought about this. Maneuvering warheads and depressed trajectories will be part of their counter to Aegis. Also, saturation – land-based missiles are cheaper than sea-based VLS tubes, so the Chinese will ultimately win the numbers game.

    Building a global fleet depending on less than a dozen big decks whose survivability can’t be adequately assured, while your essential surface combatant fleets shrinks, now thats lunacy!

    By your logic we shouldn’t build ANY ships of ANY kind. If the survivability of big CVs cannot be assured, then neither can the survivability of small CVs or surface ships. If the question is how to project power efficiently and effectively, then big CVNs win the day hands down.

  6. Byron permalink
    October 3, 2009 9:40 am

    Ah, so unlike what “a commenter” says, Mr. Pritchet is NOT an analyst. Thanks for clearing that up, Scott ;)

  7. Scott B. permalink
    October 3, 2009 8:49 am

    Byron said : “So, is he an, “analyst for the US Naval Institute”, or is he a guest blogger?

    Just trying to establish a bit of accuracy here…”

    As stated over at the USNI website, Mr. Raymond Pritchett, ala *Galrahn*, is a guest blogger and has no military experience.

    In parallel, he is also the owner of the blog *Information Dissemination*, which he proclaims to be the home to the Navy insurgency, and describes as a silly blog, often unpolished and unprofessional.

  8. Byron permalink
    October 3, 2009 7:13 am

    So, is he an, “analyst for the US Naval Institute”, or is he a guest blogger?

    Just trying to establish a bit of accuracy here…

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 2, 2009 4:08 pm

    Byron, no you didn’t, since I had no answer. I was just reposting what someone else had written.

  10. Byron permalink
    October 2, 2009 2:49 pm

    I’m sorry, Mike, I missed your answer to my question about Raymond Pritchet?

  11. Heretic permalink
    October 2, 2009 12:10 pm

    Mike, I started with the simplest point of rotations needed to maintain a constant presence. If you’re keeping a constant presence close to home, you need 3 vessels to maintain that presence. If you’re keeping a constant presence far from home, you need 4 vessels.

    Note that this has nothing to do with being big or small, flat decked or otherwise … it’s simple deployment rotation math.

    I then take that irrefutable math and apply it to the number you’re advocating (5-6 CVNs) and point out the limitations of what your chosen numbers does to PRESENCE, and how far you can extend the navy’s reach on a constant, ongoing basis. You have not found a rebuttal which says that my conclusions for presence based on your advocated numbers are wrong or inaccurate.

    Your move.

  12. Joe K. permalink
    October 2, 2009 10:46 am

    I’d say the lunacy is making assumptions or accusations about certain pieces of hardware without fully evaluating the capabilities, weaknesses, and the same for any piece of equipment which may compete or counter against it. If you buy the sales pitches about how weapons can turn multi-million/billion dollar ships into floating bulls eyes so easily you’re a fool.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 1, 2009 7:18 pm

    Maybe not Heretic, if you think they are other ways to project power from the sea than giant decks and fixed wings. Building a global fleet depending on less than a dozen big decks whose survivability can’t be adequately assured, while your essential surface combatant fleets shrinks, now thats lunacy!

  14. Anonymous permalink
    October 1, 2009 6:11 pm

    “If you want a persistent forward deployed/offensive posture, you need 4 vessels per station.
    If you want a persistent home protection/defensive posture, you need 3 vessels per station.”

    I thought USN said 5 carriers to keep one on station? Though I do agree with your figures. Submarines should always be built in 4s because of complexity

    Lean manning, better materials (everything from steels to paints and most things in-between,) and new engineering philosophies only partially impact on hull availability.

  15. Heretic permalink
    October 1, 2009 5:17 pm

    Repeating for Mike’s benefit:

    If you want a persistent forward deployed/offensive posture, you need 4 vessels per station.
    If you want a persistent home protection/defensive posture, you need 3 vessels per station.

    5-6 CVNs only makes sense if you either keep them along the east and west coasts of CONUS (ie. 6), or have a single forward deployed presence somewhere (the Pacific?) plus a modest reserve (ie. 5).

    Mike, your 5-6 CVN proposal is lunacy.

  16. Anonymous permalink
    October 1, 2009 4:05 pm

    If you make a simple length x beam calculation for a 45,000 carrier compared to a Nimitz you will see that to be viable the Chinese missile must be capable of hitting the smaller vessel if it is to be viable. Twice the displacement doesn’t mean twice the length or twice the beam. There isn’t much difference in volume. Given the Aegies BDM effectiveness I wouldn’t give the Chinese missile much chance of getting through. Have we seen verifiable proof of the weapon yet?

    Never ever quote a RAF Air Marshall on anything to do with sea power. The only the thing that organization is consistently good at is selling itself and twisting history. Air fields unlike carriers are fixed, are extremely large, and therefore are easy to find. What do you think the Chinese would do? Lets ignore all the air fields and go chase a carrier around a few hundred thousand square miles of ocean? The RAF scuppered CVA on exaggerated claims of their reach, lack of survivability of aircraft carriers, and safety of fixed runways. They then failed to provide necessary cover to the fleet on more than one occasion, tried to take over and undermine RN fixed wing (why if carriers don’t survive?) and then undertake the role of NATO’s primary runway buster (plus procuring the Harrier because the airfields would have been lost.)

    As for carriers large or small well there is a school of thought that Harrier was the better aircraft for the conditions around the Falklands. But if Invincible and Hermes could flatten the waves (so to speak) a bigger carrier would have done even better. We don’t have the budget for big carriers and perhaps the JSF(B) is a version to far. But there is no denying that 30,000 ton carrier is preferable to 20,000 carrier. Those few extra airframes make a difference. Invincible (and sisters) look big on their flight deck. But you begin to appreciate their lack of size down in the hanger.

  17. Scott B. permalink
    October 1, 2009 4:03 pm

    Byron said : “I’ll pass on commenting about the silliness of this article, and instead ask you a question: When did USNI hire Raymond Pritchett to be an “analyist”?”

    In the same vein : since when does USNI stand for US Navy Institute ?

    Whatever…

  18. Jed permalink
    October 1, 2009 3:41 pm

    Mike, all you say about the Falklands is true, but I always wonder, ‘what if’ the old Ark Royal, broken up two years before the war had been available with with 12 Phantoms (with Sparrow AAM), 14 Buccaneers (a superlative bomber) and 4 Gannet AEW aircraft had been available ?

    To be honest I have no idea if her approx. 60,000 tonnes would have provided a stable platform in the awful weather you mentioned in your last comment – would they been able to cat and trap in weather as bad as the Harriers were able to fly in ?

    However the history of the RN is a moot point when you are talking about the future of the USN carrier fleet. Surely national and then naval strategy has to decided upon before you can suggest 5 to 6 super carriers are enough ? As we say in IT, you decided on the requirements first, not the solution !

  19. Byron permalink
    October 1, 2009 3:40 pm

    I’ll pass on commenting about the silliness of this article, and instead ask you a question: When did USNI hire Raymond Pritchett to be an “analyist”?

  20. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 1, 2009 2:21 pm

    Concerning the small deck aircraft carrier, their detractors often accuse them of “crimes of omission”, what they can’t do instead of their abilities which are considerable. Not many nations can deploy supercarriers, in fact none since World War 2 have managed to do so except the USA, not even the former Soviet Union which immediately went bankrupt just as hers were entering service (probably not related but there it is). Does this mean all other navies in the world are irrelevant for this lack? Hardly.

    In the South Atlantic War, the British proved you didn’t need CTOL carriers to deploy naval airpower at sea. Those who minimize the lessons of the Falklands claim “sure they won but they didn’t win right”, misses this crucial point, that what an amazing achievement this was for a small navy, steaming thousands of miles beyond any friendly bases, with the Harriers outnumbered nearly 8-1, in some of the roughest weather on earth. The two tiny British flattops not only survived but prevailed though outnumbered in the air and ground war. Instead of proving the supercarrier so much more capable, it now seems so much overkill and an unnecessary burden.

    We should never underestimate the lessons of this first major air/land/ and sea campaign of the Missile Age, involving all the weapons which might have fought World War 3. Here were the first loss of modern Western naval combatants since the 1940s, the first use of the Exocet cruise missile in anger, the use of V/STOL in combat, and the greatest loss of Royal Navy ships and seamen since WW 2.

    It seems logical then for navies on a budget, and now this means even the USN, would reject vessels that are more of a burden than an asset, no matter how useful they remain for certain missions. Also with their increased vulnerability to missile age weaponry, putting thousands of crews at risk, and the need for continued escorts distracting vital surface ships from other urgent needs in this new century.

    Other nations should think carefully before adding an unnecessary burden of dated technology. Build a few light carriers which can serve as strike platforms in an emergency, also as ASW ships, and amphibious transport for naval infantry. Despite what they CAN’T do, all these are urgent and crucial functions of a Navy in war and peace. The US Navy should reduce its own fleet down to 5-6. depending more on her own force of LHA’s, as well as unmatched fleet of TLAM surface ships and subs.

  21. Jed permalink
    October 1, 2009 1:46 pm

    dalyhistory said: “Hermes …………. performed remarkably well, for an old vessel near the end of its service”

    What is really sad for the RN is that the Hermes in the shape of INS Vikrant can still put to see with Falklands era Sea Harrier FRS1 (or what remains of the Indian SHAR fleet anyway) with simple radar and IR missiles to provide at least some air defence capability for their fleet (and sea control with Sea Eagle ASM ?). Whereas all the RN can manage is a more modern carrier with the mockingly titled ‘Naval Strike Wing’ of RAF owned Harrier II GR MK 9 / 9A for ‘ground attack’.

    We developed the aircraft, the carrier indeed the concept, and then threw it all away (plus lots more) for a well intentioned but apparently never really thought out plan for a behemoth capable of supporting expeditionary warfare – shame on the admiralty…. :-(

    I still think its not too late, melt down the steel that has been ‘cut’ for CV(F) and buy 3 x Cavour’s to replace the Invicibles (or 4, replace HMS Ocean too, with a common platform), the Admirals can always save face by blaming the budgetary pressures !

  22. Chuck Hill permalink
    October 1, 2009 1:35 pm

    We might learn a lesson from the Indian experience. As you must have been told before, buy quality you buy once. Buy cheap, you buy twice.

  23. dalyhistory permalink
    October 1, 2009 1:28 pm

    Hi Mike, very interesting article. My point about the RN carriers is that ‘we’ seem to have painted ourselves into a corner that could lead to an imbalanced and inflexible fleet.

    The example I would think of, is if the Falklands were to happen again and we had one 60,000 ton Carrier available, obviously it would have a huge capability and seeing that sailing out of Portsmouth Harbour on its way to war would be a stirring site. But, surely two 30,000 ton hulls would be more flexible? With one large carrier, all the eggs are in one basket, whereas with more smaller carriers if you lose one not all is lost if one is taken out. Plus more smaller carriers provides more flexibility in terms of rotation and tasking.

    I’m intrigued as to why someone can suggest in 3 words that the RN didnt prove the viability of smaller carriers in the Falklands. OK, so bigger carriers would have been handy, but you can only work with what you have at the time, and Hermes and Invincible, their crews and the Sea Harriers performed remarkably well, for an old vessel near the end of its service and another almost newly commissioned. If one of them had been hit, it would have been a very serious setback. If we had had just one hull – whatever its size – on station, it would have been curtains.

    As much as I would love to see a bigger Royal Navy, the funding simply isnt there, and we need to be flexible and realistic about what we can afford to achieve.

  24. DesScorp permalink
    October 1, 2009 12:34 pm

    This magic Chinese missile is mostly hype. If it could fulfill its promise, it would basically make anything but an all-sub Navy obsolete.

    In short, I’ll believe it when I see it.

  25. Jed permalink
    October 1, 2009 11:59 am

    Mike said in response to my question about air defence role of carrier air power:

    “Again, missiles are important for local air defense and may even supersede manned air altogether in this role”

    I am not arguing with that, you missed my point, its about layers and defence in depth:

    F18/AIM120C -> SM2 / SM6 -> ESSM -> RAM -> 57mm / Phalanx

    So ‘local air defence’ is not an apples to apples comparison with my point on naval fighters for air defence. I have sat in the Operations Room of Royal Navy warships listening to the ‘raid countdown’ on the air defence net for real, if you can take it down with fighters at 80 miles, thats way better than taking a brace position while the Sea Wolf aimer try’s for a visual shot because the 910 tracker radar wont lock…….

    Also

    “and if such weapons can now defeat maneuvering MIRV warheads from out space, what chance has an huge attacking jet fighter bomber, probably attacking at subsonic speeds have against the missiles?”

    Your conflating the issues / threats Mike (on purpose ???).

    Its easier for SPY 1 B to look “up” into the sky, it can’t “see” over the radar horizon. So an SM3 can shoot “upwards” to take down ballistic missiles falling from space, and although that’s not easy, in someways it is easier than spotting an incoming supersonic (or subsonic and stealthy) “wave skimming” ASM. The “huge attacking jet fighter bomber” is not aimed at the ballistic threat.

    Even a sub-sonic fighter such as the Sea Harrier F/A2, with a good radar, and a decent missile (although I admit the new Meteor would be better than AIM120C AMRAAM) has the potential to acquire and shoot at sea skimming missiles. A USN F18 with tanker support from another F18 and the long range AEW support of the E2D can have a better chance of shooting down the launch platform (if the threat missile is air launched). By the way you only have to bang the after burners in for a few seconds to add additional velocity to your missile shot.

  26. Jed permalink
    October 1, 2009 11:43 am

    STOVL AEW / ISR = V22 ?

    Is this the real “killer application” for the V22 ? Find somewhere / someway to put a phased array antenna (like the Swedish Erieye folding down from the fuselage?) on the V22.

    Can a V22 do a rolling short take off with the nacelles/props at a 45 deg angle using a ski-jump ?

    Compromise – not as good as fixed wing cat launched, but better than AW101 (even the once planned compound version with stub wings).

    Would also of course give a longer range ASW platform………….

  27. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 1, 2009 11:40 am

    Jed said “What about Air Defence ?”

    Again, missiles are important for local air defense and may even supersede manned air altogether in this role. Why are we pumping so many funds into phased array radar if we don’t expect results, and if such weapons can now defeat maneuvering MIRV warheads from out space, what chance has an huge attacking jet fighter bomber, probably attacking at subsonic speeds have against the missiles? I don’t doubt that carriers are still essential for close air support for troops, but is this the proper role for the world’s most expensive warships, that the deployment of a single one with escorts and airwings cost more than some country’s entire annual defense budget? Not the least of which there are so many less costly alternatives to close air support, including UAVs which the troops carry with them.

    Even more amazing is the fact the ships themselves are now so costly, they are cutting into the number of escorts and aircraft the mighty floating monuments can carry with them. Then the new aircraft they do have are of much shorter range than past eras, just as the threats are pushing carriers further out to sea. This is a ludicrous idea, since a flattop without planes or escorts is just a giant gold-plated barge of no use whatsoever. It makes no sense.

  28. Joe permalink
    October 1, 2009 11:29 am

    The British Royal Navy proved the viability for small carriers in modern warfare in the 1982 Falklands Conflict, as an alternative to Big Decks

    ???

    If you have a smaller carrier capable of launching 20-30 planes or a larger one capable of launching 60-90 planes, either/both can be useful (i.e., viable) in a war scenario – most definitely.

    However, how do you arrive at “viable” = “alternative to”?

    Also, I don’t think smaller carriers would be any more immune to a fully functional fleet of Dong-Fengs than would larger carriers, would they? Be it a 100,000 ton Ford, a 60,000 ton Queen, a 50,000 ton LHA-6, or a 21,000 ton Invincible, the carrier is still going to be the biggest “battleship” within the floatilla of vessels nearing the range of DF’s.

    It might truly make sense for GB to build a class of smaller carriers, along the lines of HMS Ocean-class that’s been mentioned here at least once or twice. I’d encourage it, in fact, since it would give them a more robust navy, overall. But I’d not begin to call an adapted Ocean-class carrier more capable, potentially, than the QE or Prince that it would be taking the place of.

    @ Joe K. – Your take on Mike’s take is, to me, a correct take :)

  29. Tarl permalink
    October 1, 2009 10:47 am

    We often insist the large deck aircraft carrier is more of a prestige weapon than an essential requirement for modern navies, much like the all-gun Dreadnoughts were a century ago.

    Uh, whut? Dreadnoughts were the essential requirement for modern navies 100 years ago. The Brits and Germans did not acquire Dreadnoughts for “prestige” but because the Dreadnought rendered the pre-Dreadnoughts hopelessly inferior in fighting power. Britain did not pay a high price for a “prestige” fleet, but paid a high price because the price of losing command of the seas was even higher.

    All these may work and are very impressive on paper, but in wartime exquisite ships are just as easy to sink and cheaper vessels, maybe more so because they make a tempting target for an ambitious captain out to make a name for himself.

    The US fleet of “exquisite” vessels would sweep the seas clean of a fleet of “smaller, cheaper” trash as easily as you would blow froth from a pint.

    The British Royal Navy proved the viability for small carriers in modern warfare in the 1982 Falklands Conflict, as an alternative to Big Decks.

    No, it didn’t.

    Why play to our strengths and build an American-like carrier wing, busting your defense budget as the Brits are doing, when you can arm ships and planes with missiles for less cost and achieve the same results?

    Because you can’t achieve the same results.

    I would rather be over-cautious over a potential threat than discount it altogether, as we did the air threat before Pearl Harbor.

    The USN did not “discount” carriers before December 1941.

    I you were to design, from scratch, a naval fixed wing AEW platform today there’s remarkably little reason why it couldn’t be done as a STOL aircraft which doesn’t *need* to be catapulted

    AEW aircraft need endurance (or you have to buy a LOT of them). Endurance of STOL platforms sucks. I think a better approach to AEW/ISR is a land-based, long-endurance UAV, like BAMS. Due to their long endurance, you don’t need a lot of them to maintain persistent surveillance around the fleet, they aren’t limited by the CV deck cycle, and taking the capability off the CV frees up deck space for other things.

  30. Heretic permalink
    October 1, 2009 10:28 am

    E-2C has a bigger/better radar (and time on station) than Sea King AEW … and E-2D is even better yet … granted. But the E-1/E-2 is a platform that is how old in design? 40 years? 50 years?

    I you were to design, from scratch, a naval fixed wing AEW platform today there’s remarkably little reason why it couldn’t be done as a STOL aircraft which doesn’t *need* to be catapulted. Problem is, no one has seen a “need” for that kind of performance in an ISR/AEW aircraft, even though such an aircraft would be extremely useful for flying out of austere sites on land as well as from ski-jumps on pitching decks … once you have it built. Which means that getting a manned STOL AEW/ISR platform developed/built is a classic chicken-n-egg problem, in that no one “wants one” until somebody else has some (at which point, everyone will want some).

    And as has been pointed out before, a fixed wing STOL AEW/ISR aircraft is something that would make STOVL ski-jump carriers *practical* at dispacements smaller than today’s supercarrier (ie. bomb magnet) CVNs … and we can’t have that! No …

  31. Joe K. permalink
    October 1, 2009 9:58 am

    I don’t advocate discounting all new threats that pop up. I for one would be cautious against an enemy possessing a new missile. What I do discount is the idea that one weapon like a new missile would be enough to discount the need of a carrier altogether without weighing in what the carriers have to counteract them.

    I have been reading a bunch of your posts and from what I can derive your choice for an ideal military is a disparate high-tech-low-tech combination force. You build vehicles and ships and other equipment that is low-tech, cheaper, and easier to employ en masse while building high-tech missiles to make up for the lack of capabilities on the manned-power end. Effectively, you’re making our manned forces weaker overall while relying (praying really) that advanced missile tech would prevail. Am I wrong?

    But really, tell me. Why would the Chinese build aircraft carriers if by your reasoning it is too costly to do so AND they have the missile technology to combat them? Hmm?

    P.S. Britain’s defense budget is not even close to our own, so it is not surprising that in trying to put in some additional aircraft carriers they are busting their budget at the seams.

  32. Jed permalink
    October 1, 2009 9:51 am

    Mike you seem to be fixated on missiles as a replacement for the land attack capabilities of the carrier air wing ? Or am I just miss reading your comments ?

    What about air defence, sea control and even, ASW ?

    I know the USN big deck air groups have given up on ASW getting rid of the Viking and relying on SH60’s, but the Viking shows what was possible – mini MPA giving long range ASW patrol capability to the carrier battle group, longer range than possible with AW101 type large ASW helo’s flying from small carriers.

    What about Air Defence ? Big carrier = large AEW aircraft. Not dissing the SeaKing AEW variant, but Hawkeye has a bigger radar, carries it higher and further for longer. Even an F18 (hardly a kick ass air to air chariot) can carry its AMRAAM’s out to a greater range than a SM2 / SM6 can reach, pushing out the ‘bubble’. Even more so, in the “missle war” is not the ‘look down, shoot down’ capability of modern fighter radar plus AMRAAM / Meteor type missiles with capable radars and data links the best combination for shooting down supersonic sea skimming ASM’s while they are still over the ship based radar horizon ? The naval air defence fighter is after all just another part of a ‘defence in depth’ against any air threat.

    Sea Control – again, would you prefer to maneuver a surface action group into position to launch its helo’s, fix the enemy surface units and coordinate a Harpoon salvo, or would you rather the Hawkeye vector a dozen F18’s into position to lauch Harpoons instead, hundreds of miles further out from any of your own surface units ?

    I know there are ‘small carrier’ answers to all these questions, I am just playing devils advocate to the “missiles replace carriers” debate. Missiles will never be as flexible.

    Personally I think the RN aspiration should have been for 3 x 40,000 tonne LHA(R) derivatives, carrying Harrier II based Sea Harrier F/A3 with Meteor, with a possibility of carrying F35’s later. At least we might actually have achieved this without mortgaging the rest of the surface fleet !

    When the Chinese carry out a full test, against a moving target, then I will believe in the mythical capabilities of the Anti-ship ballistic missile (which could be hacked by the AEGIS ABM / SM3 capability any way ?).

  33. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 1, 2009 8:28 am

    Because we have yet to have a full scale missile war, I think it premature to discount their abilities. Considering the rapid advances in targeting since the 1970s, simply saying the Dong Feng “has been around since the 1970s” doesn’t give an accurate picture of what it can do. Apparently this has increased since the stealing of Pershing missile technology by China, with all its enhanced precision.

    The few missile exchanges we have had at sea, one of which you alluded to, should give us a glimpse of future war at sea. Why play to our strengths and build an American-like carrier wing, busting your defense budget as the Brits are doing, when you can arm ships and planes with missiles for less cost and achieve the same results? At best you can get your enemy to spend a disproportionate amount of their naval budget on defenses, as the USN now does with its mostly Aegis surface fleet.

    And I would rather be over-cautious over a potential threat than discount it altogether, as we did the air threat before Pearl Harbor. It took about 20-30 years before the aircraft became a potential lethal weapon of war to the battleship(recalling also every major nation was building newer dreadnoughts, even as the bombs were falling on Ford Island, just as most want carriers today). It may take the guided missile a little longer, but make no mistake, its abilities are considerable.

  34. Joe K. permalink
    October 1, 2009 8:13 am

    The problem with all of the articles pointing at nations who haven’t developed carriers (or haven’t developed them well) is this: America has actually been building carriers since 1920s and on a consistent basis.

    “The result, 13 years later, is the Dong Feng 21. “It’s a technological leap that’s never [before] been made,” says Schriver, now the head of a non-partisan research body, Project 2049 Institute, and a founding partner of the consulting firm Armitage International…”

    For one, the Dong Feng 21 has been around since the 1970s. And just ten years after that there were already anti-ship munitions on the market like the Exocet missile which is DESIGNED to hit ships. Not to mention the Project 2049 Institute most likely has little appreciative knowledge about military matters (I looked them up).

    And to argue against using carriers because, WHOA, SOMEONE BUILT A MISSILE, is stupid and only panders to those who have a fetish for missiles (like yourself Mike). You can’t constantly shift around priorities or just dispose of taxpayer-built hardware because someone develops a POTENTIAL counter to them. Just because the French released the Exocet didn’t mean that all of the sudden you can’t have navies. And as far as I know, the invention of the carrier battle group was meant to PROTECT the carrier from outside threats including hostile missiles.

    Anyone can build a missile aimed at a specific kind of target (or just general targets) and claim it makes the target obsolete or indifferent; but it’s not what they have, it’s how they use it. It seems these people do not have the foresight able to look at anything beyond a singled-out, defenseless carrier which would normally have escorts and aircraft and technologies at its disposal so it’s easy for them to suddenly declare carriers obsolete because they do not have any knowledge regarding the capabilities of the carrier or it’s aircraft or its battle group elements.

    On another note, if carriers are soooooooooooooo obsolete because of the Dong Feng 21’s latest variant, why are the Chinese building aircraft carriers?

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