Carrier Diversity Thursday
Chinese Carriers Not the West’s Biggest Worry
The following quote is from the China Military Report blog. I have rephrased the translated text into better English, hoping to have kept the spirit of the statement:
As for the US-Japan Pacific League, the real threat from the Chinese armed forces is not the number of aircraft carriers, but the anti-ship missiles. China’s anti-ship missile is based on the existing medium-range missiles developed specifically for use against U.S. aircraft carriers. Mach 10 speed coupled with the changing track, makes null and void the current US-Japan defense capability to intercept . The missile has a maximum range of 3,000 kilometers, covering the entire western Pacific, including Japan and all the East and South China Sea . In other words, the U.S. warships won’t be able to sail when and where they will, as previously, while the U.S. dominance in the Western Pacific will be gone forever.
The US Navy’s Maritime Continental Strategy
Having no peer adversary after World War 2, and really since, to justify the construction of large deck aircraft carriers, the admirals had to come up with a new use for their Big Decks. The marvelous role of power projection and attacking enemy land bases suddenly pushed control of the sealanes to second place, and became the Fleet’s primary reason for existence. It remains so to this day. Here is part of a 1990 report from the CATO Institute on this practice:
Although the Maritime Strategy is still evolving, one of its original purposes was to ensure that the U.S. Navy would play a greater role in the event of a European war. A basic tenet of the strategy is that carrier strike forces, submarines, and Marine Corps expeditionary forces would attack Soviet naval forces as close to Soviet bases as possible and destroy the attack and ballistic submarines at the outset of a war. Thus, the Maritime Strategy assumes that the defense of Europe is a critical obligation of the United States–an increasingly debatable assumption…
The Maritime Strategy can be viewed as an implicit acknowledgment that aircraft carriers are not essential to the navy’s traditional post-World War II missions, peacetime patrol and crisis management. The navy had been able to cite ample evidence that of all the instruments at their disposal, presidents prefer aircraft carriers. But it had not been able to demonstrate that carriers have a significant impact on the outcome of peacetime crises. Thus, it was natural for the navy to invoke a different mission–an attack on Warsaw Pact forces–to justify the use of carriers, especially the new large-deck carriers.
Instead of a single main adversary, the Navy’s shrinking number of supercarriers face numerous foes, from terrorists, to pirates, and rogue dictators threatening with Weapons of Mass Destruction. With so many enemies, the dwindling number of Big Decks are stretched thin, growing in size, and price, while the number and quality of aircraft on its costly hulls decreases steadily. Which is why we call, no plead for alternatives.
Carriers More Vulnerable Than Ever
Speaking of the Cold War era flattops, at least the Navy back then spared no expense in ensuring the survival of their tremendous investment. Yet many of these systems for carrier self-defense has been discarded because the ships themselves have become too costly to defend adequately. For instance:
Then-Threat from Long Range Bombers countered with the long range F-14 (1600 nm range) and the massive 100 mile range Phoenix missile. The latter also apparently possessed an anti-missile capability. Now-Shorter range Hornet fighters (400 nm range) which also do double duty as bombers are armed with short range Sparrow missiles.
Then-Threat from submarines are countered with S-3 Viking jet patrol planes with a 10 hour endurance. Now-With the retirement of the Viking from carrier service its place has been taken by the SH-60 Seahawk helicopter with less than a 4 hour range.
Then-A-6 Intruder with a 1000 nm combat radius. Now-The latest model Hornet, the F/A-18 E/F with a combat radius of 400 nm.*
Arguably the threat from missiles and aircraft against the carriers is greater now than ever. With the dissolution of the old Soviet Union, its advanced weapons geared to sinking the American large decks, are now in the hands of numerous potential adversaries, notably China, but also advanced aircraft, missiles, and submarines armed with supersonic cruise missiles going to the likes of North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and even non-state powers such as Hezbollah. All this makes it increasingly possible than in a stand off even with a Third World hybrid military, our most powerful and advanced warships will be at risk from an extremely low tech power.
Also we consider another nation very experienced with modern war at sea, the British, and the plight of its war winning veteran carriers. Since 2006 the Navy’s Sea Harriers which handily defeated supersonic Argentine Mirages over the Falklands have been withdrawn from service, replaced by the slower and less capable (for air defense) ground attack version, the Harrier GR9. As with the US Navy, in order to keep some kind of carrier force operational, a less superior plane was chosen. Another example of the cost of a platform out-weighing its worth as a weapons launcher.
*(Note-I compiled the ranges on the various aircraft from different sources, including the Navy Fact File, Global Security.org, and Wikipedia. Feel free to argue over the numbers but I still insist the last generation Tomcats and Intruders possessed better endurance than the current or even future generation planes like the F-36C. The future UCAVs might tip the scales, but the Navy seems in no hurry with this capability.)
Lobbyists take a Stand!
The author of the article we reviewed here last week from the Boston Globe, Christopher M. Lehman, titled “Keeping the aircraft carrier fleet afloat,’’ was actually in the pay of the company that builds these wonders to our technical prowess, according to an Oped at the Globe’s websight. Surprise!
ISN’T IT inappropriate for the Globe to publish an oped advocating the construction of aircraft carriers when the author works at a consulting firm that represents Northrop Grumman, the company responsible for carrier construction? In Christopher Lehman’s Oct. 14 oped, “Keeping the aircraft carrier fleet afloat,’’ the Globe did not bother to disclose the author’s financial stake in the position he was arguing, which would have helped readers evaluate Lehman’s credibility (or lack thereof) as a dispassionate analyst.
Lehman doesn’t base his case on military or strategic grounds, conceding at the very beginning that “the United States does not need aircraft carriers to counter those of other countries.’’ Instead, he asserts that carriers are valuable as power projectors that the United States uses to affect crises “without releasing a single weapon.’’ In other words, while carriers might not actually do much militarily, they make us feel like we’re shaping outcomes.
As of this writing, here is all the Globe posts on Mr Lehman’s credentials:
Christopher M. Lehman, a former special assistant for national security affairs to President Reagan, is chairman of Commonwealth Consulting Corporation in Arlington, Va.
Kudos to an alert Travis Sharp a “military policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation”. I’d almost bet he reads this blog!
A Better Way of War
Instead of keeping our most valuable assets forward deployed and on a constant war-footing, we consistently offer warship alternatives for use in the power projection role. Fortunately, modern technology, especially advanced missiles, and increasingly UAVs at sea give us a way out from a single-minded and costly strategy of using the large deck aircraft carriers as our gunboats. From a 2008 article in Armed Forces Journal, here is Cmdr. Henry J Hendrix writing on Dead Reckoning (or Carried Away):
AN ALTERNATIVE CARRIER STRATEGY In fact, we should consider moving away from regular carrier deployments and toward an alternative strategy of directed/focused surge deployments. In this alternative future strike, carriers on both coasts would be in a constant state of readiness to deploy in response to crises. The West Coast strike carriers and their air wings would be forward based at Guam to cut transit times. In this scenario, we might be able to get by with fewer strike carriers in the inventory than what we maintain now, and send a percentage of the remaining carriers into a maintenance reserve status.
The remaining carriers could be placed in semi-active status and reconfigured for other mission sets, namely to act as expeditionary sea-base platforms to embark Army and Marine Corps expeditionary brigades during crises. Ever since the introduction of the Sea Power 21 operational construct five years ago, the sea base has been getting the short end of the stick from long-term planners, even though it was touted initially as having the most potential to have a positive effect in the post-9/11 world.
Seeking Solutions for Sapped Morale
The headline from Navy Times says it all How lean manning saps morale, puts sailors at risk. It is the more heart-wrenching when you think it is all so unnecessary. You probably know where I’m going with this:
When the cruiser Port Royal ran aground in February off Hawaii, Navy investigators found a number of reasons for the failure. The ship’s navigational gear was broken. Watchstanders lost their situational awareness. The fathometer wasn’t working, so the ship had no way of assessing depth.
But the investigation also found two other problems that have become all too common in the surface fleet: The captain had barely slept, and qualified lookouts who could have spotted the disaster in time were stuck doing jobs in other parts of the ship.
Both problems — too much work to do and not enough people to do it — are byproducts of the fleet’s years-old practice of “optimal manning,” slowly whittling the number of bodies in each command throughout the fleet.
Where to find the extra manpower? Hmmmm…How about where the Navy currently holds 15% of its total 329,390 personnel, all in 10 giant warships? It seems astonishing that in these few decks the Navy will insist there can be no compromise, no alternatives, even in this age of the guided missile and computers.
China Warns Concrete Navy Will Crush the West
Leaked photos revealing a large Chinese aircraft carrier-type structure, has been officially confirmed by the Beijing News Agency as the lead vessel of its new concrete fleet.
“Soon our concrete warships will flood the oceans, faster than a high rise apartment in Hong Kong”, declared a spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
A shipbuilding expert familiar with concrete warships, also known as “ferrocement construction“, says that while such vessels are very strong, the labor costs to construct them might be prohibitive to a Western Navy. In China, though, where labor is plentiful and cheap, manpower costs would be no obstacle. Such a thick hull might also be invulnerable to US torpedoes, with nuclear submarines being a primary deterrent to surface ships in modern war.
“Our weapons would be impervious to such a force, much like the faulty Navy torpedoes as the start of World War 2, which often failed to explode”, warned the expert.
A spokesman for the US Navy only replied that he hoped the Chinese will use the popular building material to further the good relations and close ties both nation’s feel toward each other. The chief of the Navy also declared his intention to persuade his counterpart in the PLAN to share this advanced new technology with the West, in a show of goodwill. The admiral said that US scientists have been working on concrete warships themselves and expect to field such a vessel, likely a 100,000 ton aircraft carrier, also able to carry troops, perform minesweeping, and operate in littoral waters, by 2020.
I couldn’t resist.