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Carrier Diversity Thursday

October 8, 2009

USN_Amphibious_assault_shipsToday we present a special “small carrier” edition!

Royal Navy Carriers “Sitting Ducks”

Save the Royal Navy is none too happy with Labour’s claim to support the  British military:

The fact is that ALL in-service (commissioned) Royal Navy warships, and especially the carriers HMS Ark Royal and Illustrious, are sitting ducks to recently developed supersonic anti-ship missiles, such as the Russian ‘Sizzler’ SS-N-27. Other than the upgraded US Navy Aegis/ESSM/Standard Missile system, only PAAMS/Aster is thought (carried by just 6 British Type 45 destroyers under construction) to be able to counter this type of missile.

The French can retrofit their aircraft carrier with new, cutting edge anti airborne threat missile systems that are required to meet today’s threats, why- during the last 10-years- hasn’t the Labour govt ensured that the same was done for the Royal Navy’s carriers? Why are the UK’s planned new carriers not going to have PAAMS/Aster or any anti airborne threat defences?

If Labour is a party that claims it looks out for the country’s best interests, then why is Labour authorising funding for the RN’s Flagships to be made “faster, leaner and greener” but not for them and the escorts to have their weapons and defensive systems upgraded?

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Light carriers in Action!

On that note, here is another RN flattop taking part in a major naval exercise:

Eight Harrier GR9s from the Naval Strike Wing, Two ASW Merlin from 814, Two Sea King ASAC from 854 and one Lynx helicopter embarked on to HMS Illustrious on Monday 28th September.  The aircraft are onboard to take part in Exercise Joint Warrior 092, which is a UK wide, tri-service exercise that takes place between 5 – 23 October.

The aim of the Joint Warrior is to provide coordinated training for all 3 UK Armed Services and forces from allied nations.  The Exercise includes participants from the UK and up to 10 Foreign Nations including Land participation from the RAF Regt, 18 surface and 3 sub-surface maritime units and approximately 50 aircraft.

Based on HMS Illustrious , the Commander UK Carrier Strike Group (COMUKCSG), Commodore Simon Ancona will lead a Task Group, consisting of 9 warships from differing countries, demonstrating the UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG) capability and utility.

Very impressive! Who says only large decks can deploy airpower at sea effectively?

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Sins of Omission

The following is something we mentioned in the comments last week that bears repeating:

Concerning the small deck aircraft carrier, their detractors often accuse them of “sins 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.

I will also add that in the Falklands, the light carriers were tested to the utmost limits of what they could expect in wartime, under threat of cruise missiles, aircraft, and submarines, forced to operate to the extent of their aircraft range, outnumbered in the air. Proof of the concept is the fact that except for the USA, every flattop currently in production or conversion is of the light or medium variety. Recently the Japanese Navy restarted its light carrier program. Others such as  Britain, Italy, India, Spain, Thailand, Russia, continue to do so, while possibly China and Australia are seeking the type as adjuncts to their own navies. Who’s to argue that any of these fleets are irrelevant?

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The Russian Alternative

Strategypage reveals how the former Soviet Union planned to circumvent the need for giant, American-style nulcear powered attack carriers. What they came up with might be dubbed a “medium carrier”?

It was in the early 1990s that work began on creating a variant of the MiG-29 for carrier use. These were to be used on the Kuznetsov class carriers, which were conceived as 90,000 ton, nuclear powered ships, similar to American carriers (complete with steam catapults). Instead, because of the cost, and the complexity of modern (American style) carriers, the Russians were forced to scale back their goals, and ended up with the 65,000 ton (full load) ships that lacked steam catapults, and used a ski jump type flight deck instead. Nuclear power was dropped, but the Kuznetsov class was still a formidable design.

The thousand foot long carrier ended up carryings a dozen navalized, 33 ton Su-27s (called Su-33s), 14 Ka-27PL anti-submarine helicopters, two electronic warfare helicopters and two search and rescue helicopters. The ship was designed to carry up to 36 Su-33s and sixteen helicopters.

Backed up by the massive Kirov class battlecruisers, thses ships might have been formidable adversaries for the USN Big Decks, if our submarines didn’t get to them first!

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Outstanding Quote

Max Hastings on the choices Conservative Party Leader David Cameron must make if elected British Prime Minister:

Harsh choices are needed quickly, involving a rebalancing of resources to create a world-class Army, while cancelling the Navy’s aircraft carriers and accepting a minimalist nuclear deterrent after Trident. We need far fewer fast jets and more helicopters and drones. The Ministry of Defence requires radical reform.

*****

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    October 10, 2009 4:05 pm

    “A world-class Army that can’t get off its home islands and won’t have air superiority. Hmmmmm.”

    Doesn’t it hurt when we here come up with stuff like this, but those in government can’t?

  2. Tarl permalink
    October 10, 2009 11:00 am

    because of the cost, and the complexity of modern (American style) carriers, the Russians were forced to scale back their goals, and ended up with the 65,000 ton (full load) ships that lacked steam catapults, and used a ski jump type flight deck instead. Nuclear power was dropped, but the Kuznetsov class was still a formidable design.

    Bad design. There is no reason a 65,000 ton CV couldn’t have steam catapults.

  3. Tarl permalink
    October 10, 2009 9:55 am

    The fact is that ALL in-service (commissioned) Royal Navy warships, and especially the carriers HMS Ark Royal and Illustrious, are sitting ducks to recently developed supersonic anti-ship missiles

    Exactly. Small carriers are sitting ducks. Only large carriers can hope to defend themselves.

    A “big fleet with small carriers” is not going to survive, because all those “small, affordable” ships can’t defend themselves effectively, and are still far more expensive than anti-ship cruise missiles.

    I will also add that in the Falklands, the light carriers were tested to the utmost limits of what they could expect in wartime, under threat of cruise missiles, aircraft, and submarines, forced to operate to the extent of their aircraft range, outnumbered in the air.

    Nonsense. The Falklands was not a stressing scenario for the small carriers, because they fought at the extreme range of enemy land-based air, the enemy didn’t have many ASCMs, and enemy surface and submarine forces were incompetent. Even as it was, the British got lucky when enemy bombs failed to explode, and even as it was, it was a close-run thing.

    Harsh choices are needed quickly, involving a rebalancing of resources to create a world-class Army, while cancelling the Navy’s aircraft carriers and accepting a minimalist nuclear deterrent after Trident. We need far fewer fast jets and more helicopters and drones.

    A world-class Army that can’t get off its home islands and won’t have air superiority. Hmmmmm.

  4. October 10, 2009 5:41 am

    I’m late to the conversation but it must be pointed out that a Russian website is reporting that the Mig-29K is going to be the next gen carrier aircraft replacing the SU-33 in that role. So your scenario might play out if hostilities ever flare up again.

  5. October 9, 2009 2:38 pm

    “Small carriers and some aircraft better than non”

    I agree! And a big fleet with a few small carriers is better than a small fleet with a few big carriers lacking adequate escort or adequate aircraft. This latter is where the USN and Britain are headed.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    October 8, 2009 3:41 pm

    “It’s all talk, for the costs to go up so high so quickly most of the money will have been spent or labour would have already axed them, I’m actually beginning to lean towards scrapping the Nuclear deterrant and channeling the funds into attack submarines and surface combatants, three large [800ft, 32,000T] LPHs to replace Ocean and Ark royal wouldn’t go a miss either.”

    Find something to prop yourself up with to stop this leaning.

    We only need ARGs if we are going off to fiddle in other’s affairs. And I don’t think the British public will be in favour of another A-stan or Iraq for a decade or three. Our token efforts here don’t really garner much better treatment out of the US so perhaps we would be better of sitting the next one out.

    You are right to defend the “homeland” (a curious term I find) we need more Astutes and more air defence. These though are capital intensive, the army is not or so it would seem. The public accept a 2 million pound tank because most of them don’t realise a regiment needs 56 or so. And they certainly don’t know how many tank regiments we have. You mention £20 billion for Trident and they will gasp. But compared to the amount pumped into the banks here alone it is nothing. And a billion pound a year sounds a lot until you found out it is only 3 per cent of the defence budget. And it is Trident that keeps us on the top table not getting our young lads killed in a foreign field for ill defined goals.

    The other thing most don’t realise is that their standard of living compared to those “enjoyed” by the citizens of the eastern bloc was because nuclear weapons provided cheap defence. We didn’t tie money up in large conventional forces and large war reserves. The middle class kids getting 2.1s for calling uni-lateral nuclear disarmament wouldn’t have their summer in the sun, their cars, or winter ski-ing or any of the other benefits of modern middle class without the dreaded bomb. They would probably have to endure a two year stretch in uniform.

    This is turning into a rant. I will stop.

  7. Anonymous permalink
    October 8, 2009 2:38 pm

    “I hope the ‘Commander, UK Carrier Strike Group’ has a Tomahawk equipped SSN in his ‘carrier strike group’ because its the only asset capable of ’striking’ a target other than Taliban irregulars not equipped with MANPADS (let along targets behind any kind of integrated air defence system).”

    And I hope you agree that who ever signed off the Astute without a dozen or so VL tubes needs their back side kicking. Look at the size she is and nobody thought to squeeze this feature in.

    Unless that is their Lordships saw Astute with that feature as a possible alternative to Trident………..

  8. Alex. (the new'un) permalink
    October 8, 2009 2:33 pm

    It’s all talk, for the costs to go up so high so quickly most of the money will have been spent or labour would have already axed them, I’m actually beginning to lean towards scrapping the Nuclear deterrant and channeling the funds into attack submarines and surface combatants, three large [800ft, 32,000T] LPHs to replace Ocean and Ark royal wouldn’t go a miss either.

    Also the RAF doesn’t have many fast jets at all, Typhoons yes but theres nothing in the pipeline to replace the tonkas which will leave service in the next 15 years, it is unlikely T3B will be signed leaving the RAF with 180 fast jets (not inlcuding half the Lightnings they wont get)+ trainers, something the RAF should be looking towards is the possibility of buying 30-40 BAe Hawk 200s for COIN/CAS the aircraft has the potential to perform as a great COIN/CAS platform(albeit light) cheap and no need for an OCU.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    October 8, 2009 2:20 pm

    “Surely that is not the point Sharkey Ward or others are trying to make, is not the question: Could the UK (the RN) have lost without the carriers and Sea Harriers?”

    The Harrier’s ability to “plonk” (technical term) itself down on even the smallest flight deck does make it (hypothetically) better carrier aircraft (in the hands of a very good pilot.) And Ward did cast doubt on whether the conditions down south would have allowed CTOL to have operated at anything toward maximum sortie rate. And yes we would have been literally and figuratively sunk without Harriers!

    Despite how my comments sounded I am a fan of the commander’s thinking on naval warfare; not just carriers but using helicopters to carry its mother ship’s larger missiles instead of having them bolted to deck. His account of the war should be compared with Sandy Woodward’s. If there weren’t witnesses to him being there you would swear that it was fictional. Not for nothing did they call him woodentop.

    The one lesson that war did prove that even we couldn’t afford large CTOL carriers the Invincible’s are 10,000 tons too small. But at the time with Illustrious already completed and the Ark Royal in build it was too late.

  10. Jed permalink
    October 8, 2009 11:24 am

    Ref : “Could even the experts such as Commander Ward seriously prove that we would have lost with CTOL carriers? No.”

    Surely that is not the point Sharkey Ward or others are trying to make, is not the question: Could the UK (the RN) have lost without the carriers and Sea Harriers?

    Answer (IMHO): Yes !

    Lesson: Small carriers and some aircraft better than non

    Ref: the initial article – 8 x Harrier GR9 ground attack aircarft = “Naval Strike Wing” – don’t make me laugh……

    I hope the ‘Commander, UK Carrier Strike Group’ has a Tomahawk equipped SSN in his ‘carrier strike group’ because its the only asset capable of ‘striking’ a target other than Taliban irregulars not equipped with MANPADS (let along targets behind any kind of integrated air defence system).

  11. Joe K. permalink
    October 8, 2009 9:00 am

    No one mentioned yet that the Harrier used by the British in the Falklands isn’t a silver bullet to other fighter aircraft. Even if it has VTOL ans STOL capabilities for every four hours of flight it requires over 100 hours of maintenance time, perhaps even more if the jet sustained damage because of its complex systems. For that same amount of flight in the case of the F/A-18C under 80 hours are required for maintenance, but since the average flight is about 2.6 hours the maintenance times are even shorter.

  12. Anonymous permalink
    October 8, 2009 7:00 am

    Max Hastings is a frustrated general and this flaw runs through all his writings. What the British Army fails to recognise (and I believe it is a product of all those years sitting on the North German plains) is that without the sea they can’t go anywhere to fight anybody. And even if we do acknowledge that is the USN that keeps the seas secure for the West, it surely must be a bit gaoling for a military man to admit his entire position is secured through somebody else’s might.

    Then again the RAF are just as bad. They don’t seem to acknowledge that air space above states isn’t free. That one state blocking the use of their air space can add thousands of miles onto a flight (stretching tanker resources even further.) And if a state does allow the use of its air space and air fields it may apply caveats; for example the Italians preventing Nato from using cluster bombs in Kosovo.

    Together that is why despite spending per man on defence being some of the highest in the world are our services are suffering.

    Lastly and in capitals. THE FALKLANDS WAR WAS A BLOODY CLOSE THING. You can’t really gain to many lessons from it. Could even the experts such as Commander Ward seriously prove that we would have lost with CTOL carriers? No.

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