Carrier Alternative Weekly
Yes, we’ve changed the name.
Killer Drones on Aircraft Carriers
Jason Paur at the Danger Room reports on Navy plans to catch up with the other services in the deployment of unmanned airpower:
The Navy’s top admiral told a think-tank audience yesterday he wants more unmanned aircraft in the sea service, and he wants ‘em in a hurry. In particular, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead said he’d like a robotic attack aircraft that can land and take off from a carrier. As it happens, I saw a full-scale mock-up of just such a plane a few weeks ago.
The X-47B is expected to make its first flight by the end of the year and could be making autonomous carrier landings as soon as 2011. In the meantime, drone-maker Northrop Grumman decided the show the thing off to the press at Edwards Air Force Base.
It’s no secret that unmanned aerial vehicles are becoming the preferred eyes in the sky and weapons platform for the military when it comes to combat zones. But so far the drones have been limited to operating from established air bases and flying relatively slow and easy, high above the action. The X-47B has the potential to change all that.
This is encouraging news, but the large deck aircraft carrier is hardly the most efficient way to operate such force multipliers at sea. The supercarrier is built for an era requiring multiple sorties, with the ability to launch many squadrons very quickly. In contrast are the UAVs armed with precision weapons, a solitary and deadly seeker in the air, without need of an extended tanker support either. Such a craft just cries out for smaller carriers and motherships, which won’t break the bank but still allow you to deploy new weapons to sea, effectively and affordably.
Russian Aircraft Carriers? No Thanks!
According to Strategypage, the Russian government is ordering its admirals to look to defend its own back yard with smaller warships, instead of a Blue Water carrier arm:
While Russian admirals have been talking about building six aircraft carriers in the next decade, the president of Russia has recently ordered them to concentrate on smaller ships for the Black and Baltic Seas. The Black Sea fleet has been continually declining since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991…
So the admirals have been ordered to forget about large aircraft carriers, and take care of business closer to home. Corvettes and patrol boats are needed, not carriers.
One more Navy out the carrier race. Heard anything definite from China lately?
Speaking of Russians Speaking…
Here is Pravda’s take on the recent downsizing of Britain’s planned attack carrier arm:
The British Royal Navy does not exist independently. It is a part of NATO troops and, therefore, is meant to participate in the actions of this block. After World War II, the British aircraft career fleet was the second in the North-Atlantic alliance after the American fleet. However, it was very different.
The US Navy was the basis of NATO troops, whereas the British Royal Navy was an auxiliary.
Americans had Nimitz supercarriers equipped with a hundred planes each. English carriers, such as Invisible, were not competitive since they were only equipped with 20 Sea Harrier fighter jets with a limited actions radius.
Of course, some people in the British Defense Department counted on getting the new aircraft carrier that would revive the British navy superpower.
Although Prince of Wales was more powerful than the existing aircraft carries owned by London, it was still incapable of performing tasks feasible for similar American carriers.
Hermes/Viraat Back in Action
Here is another tale of “indispensable warships”, where aging veteran ships are forced to remain on the frontlines long past their prime, because their replacements are too complicated or too expensive. Soon India’s sole aircraft carrier will return to service after a refit, according to the Times of India:
INS Viraat is now on the verge of completing its ‘sea-acceptance trials’ and ‘work-up phase’ off Mumbai after an 18-month-long comprehensive refit in Mumbai and Kochi to increase its longevity as well as upgrade its weapon and sensor packages.
Coincidentally enough, the 28,000-tonne old warhorse will also be completing its 50th year as an operational warship this November. Originally commissioned in the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes in November 1959, it was inducted into the Indian Navy in May 1987.
I think they have got their money’s worth from this legendary light carrier! Makes you wonder why we don’t just dust off the original building plans, and go from there rather than designing newer and harder to build technology.
Nuke Carriers Not Cheap
The Navy is currently obsessed with cutting fuel costs, probably to make itself more politically correct to an administration set on cutting waste in the military. We posted on an article from Army vet John T Reed earlier this week, and here is more:
Carriers may be nuclear powered, but their planes are not. That means the carrier has to stop for gas every day. So what’s the advantage of not needing to get diesel or bunker oil for the carrier’s own propulsion at the same time? I’ll bet that over the long run, using diesel or bunker oil as the fuel for the carrier’s own propulsion would cost less than using nuclear reactors.
Then there is the fact that carriers do not operate alone. They operate in a “battle group.” What’s that? A whole bunch of ships whose function is to protect the damned carrier. The nautical equivalent of a hip-hop star’s entourage. And what fuel propels the swarm of protector ships? Nuclear? Nope. They burn old-time bunker oil. So not only does the carrier have to stop at the gas station daily for aviation fuel, all its protector ships also have to stop for bunker oil.
Once again, if the carrier has to keep stopping for fuel, why bother putting a nuclear reactor in it? I think it’s because you can tell the men from the boys by the size of their toys. Nuclear carriers are more impressive toys to a bunch of admirals who want to play “mine’s more powerful than yours.” They also cost more which means more pork for the districts and states of a bunch of congressmen and senators.
The Navy is not interested in reducing the upfront costs of nuclear supercarriers, only in minimizing their lifetime costs, whatever than means for a ship worth $10 billion each. Which is why they will lose all eventually because they can’t bend a little now, seeing it was costs, not the torpedo bomber which finally sank the all-gun battleship for good.
The Great Asian Aircraft Carrier Race
Don’t be too focused on the giant ships supposedly appearing in Asian shipyards lately. I’ll explain after I offer details of the future programs via Devindra Sethi at UPI Asia:
India-The INS Viraat has recently been refitted in India and should see active service till 2015, while the 45,000-ton INS Vikramaditya is being refitted in Severodvinsk, Russia and should commence trials in 2011. The new Vikrant class aircraft carriers are the Indian Navy’s first to be fully designed and built in India by Cochin Shipyard. Work on the lead vessel commenced in 2008 and is scheduled for launch in 2010.
China-Photographs have been taken of the unfinished Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, purchased by China in 1998 and repainted in the colors of the PLA Navy, in a dockyard in the northeast port city of Dalian…Intelligence reports indicate that China also plans to construct two new aircraft carriers in a shipyard in Shanghai. Apparently the ships will be similar to the Varyag, with nuclear propulsion.
Japan-is building Hyuga-class helicopter destroyers, which are essentially 18,000-ton amphibious warfare ships that carry only helicopters.
Australia-The Australian government has also taken the bold decision to reacquire aircraft carriers and has placed orders for two Canberra-class ships…The Canberra-class ships, which are similar to India’s INS Viraat, are expected to be in service from 2014.
South Korea-In 2007 South Korea commissioned an 18,600-ton “air warfare destroyer” equipped with the AEGIS system imported from the United States. This has amphibious capability and presently operates only helicopters. The South Korean Navy will reportedly acquire four of these Dokdo-class ships in the near future, primarily aimed at the North Korean navy. (I think the author mistakenly inserted the new Sejong the Great Aegis missile destroyer into the list, but the rest is correct).
Russia-is reportedly purchasing a Mistral-class amphibious ship from France. It has been operating the aircraft carrier Kuznetsov for many years, and has deployed the ship and its fighter wing of SU-33 aircraft in European waters and the Mediterranean Sea. It also successfully tested the naval variant of the supersonic MIG-29 KUB from the Kuznetsov in 2009.
Sadly, we think this current naval race is leading the continent and surrounding countries on the road to ruin. Recalling the equally expensive dreadnought races of the last century, these giant vessels invoke much national pride as well as jealousies. When war does come, these mighty symbols of national wealth generally scurry for cover since they are too precious to lose or place in harms way (otherwise they are taken out early because of battle damage or destruction), leaving the smaller warships, especially destroyers and submarines to fight it out on the high seas. History, then, comes full circle.
It is of course a pity that the U.S. armed forces are the Typhoid Mary of military models. Like that deadly Irish girl, we present an attractive appearance. Our vast resources and fancy gear overawe other countries and lead them to want to copy us. Regrettably, like Typhoid fever, the Second Generation culture embodied in the U.S. military is a fatal disease. It leaves its victims helpless against Third or Fourth Generation opponents.