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Carrier Alternative Weekly

November 12, 2009

Graf Zeppelin: The only aircraft carrier launched by Germany during World War II

German Light Carrier in the Works?

I love these names navies tag on warships to disguise their true purpose. More on this subject later, but here is one from Germany a “multi-purpose ship”, officially “Mehrzweckeinsatzschiff”. Mike at  Combat Fleet of the World (one of my favorite new naval blogs!) provides some details of what this may be like:

– 2 large LHDs, 27/30000 tons, carrying/supporting 800 men (“JSS 800”). Maybe a TKMS MRD150/MHD150/MHD200 or a Spanish BPE design’s…?
– 3 LPD/LHD, + 20000 tons, carrying/supporting 400 men (“JSS 400+”). Maybe a French Mistral or Dutch Enforcer 16000 design…?
– 3 LPD/LHD, – 20000 tons, capable of carrying 400 men, but not enough supplies to support them organically for 30 days, e.g. MZES would be used in addition to that (“JSS 400”).
– no JSS, more MZES instead as a limited solution.
– a mix ?

Multi-role carriers is where it is at. America should emphasize their own more, with less reliance on attack carriers.

Intriguing, and we’ll keep you posted. If the Japanese navy can make a comeback, why not the Kreigsmarine?


Sanity Returning to British Shipbuilding

In wartime or peace, it is better to have a great many good warships, than a few exquisite ones. Proof of this can be seen as BAE expands their building plans beyond the two increasingly uncertain Queen Elizabeth supercarriers. From the Telegraph we learn:

BAE, which took full control of its naval shipbuilding joint venture with VT Group last month, is pursuing orders in Oman and North Africa, as well as looking for opportunities in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Australia where other divisions of BAE have significant businesses.

“We have to put the ground work in now to develop these markets,” said Alan Johnston, managing director of the newly-formed surface ships business “The international business will be about ship support and ship building, using our designs and our system management skills.”

As an example Mr Johnston cites the recent sale of a patrol boat design to the Thai navy, which was based on a ship being built for export to Trinidad and Tobago.

He said the division is looking at contracts worth from £5m up to £4bn. A proportion of future export work would be carried out in the countries that place the orders, he said. Mr Johnston insists the British yards have at least another five to six years of steady work, despite increasing speculation over the future of the two aircraft carriers after next year’s election.

Proof that placing all of one’s eggs in a couple pricey baskets isn’t always a smart move. The USAF learned this with the F-22 Raptor, while its aging fleet of warplanes from the 70s and 80s fought its wars, and 25 years later continue to keep going, and going…

Meanwhile the 2 British aircraft carriers are hanging on by a thread, but thanks to high costs of ships and planes, while threats mount world-wide, their demise can only be a matter of the next government in power.


Rafale versus F-35

One of the handful of remaining carrier-capable, non V/STOL jets in the world today is the French Rafale, a possibility for an F-35 alternative. Judge for yourself from this article via Peter Collins at Flight Global:

It is worth remembering that stealth-optimized, or fifth-generation fighters such as the Lockheed F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are not only likely to be hugely expensive, but they can only preserve their stealth characteristics by carrying a very limited weapons load in their internal weapon bays.

Therefore, in the current and predicted financial defence climate, it could well be that so-called fourth-generation fighters will remain the aircraft of choice for most nations – perhaps even including the UK.

Moreover, the fact that the Rafale is the only European fighter in production that is carrier-capable gives it, in my opinion, a distinct advantage in any future export “fly-off” competition as a single combat type that can equip a country’s air force and naval air arm.


 You’ll Be Sorry…

France is intent on selling Russia up to 4 light amphibious carriers no matter the cost, and I’m not referring to money here. From Joseph Farah at World Net Daily:

Never at a loss to pass up a commercial deal that could hit Western strategic security interests, the French government is on a fast track to sell Russia one or more helicopter carriers that will provide the amphibious capability it now lacks in the Black Sea, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Such a capability could allow the Kremlin to move troops and tanks into neighboring Georgia more quickly, for example allowing Russian Spetznaz, or Special Forces, to invade in a matter of hours rather than the days it took in its August 2008 invasion.

In 2008, Russia literally took away from Georgia two contentious breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ironically, the French government negotiated the end of hostilities that allowed the Russians to militarily occupy the two breakaway provinces which Moscow immediately recognized as independent countries.


When a carrier is not a carrier

From the same WND post, here is some sly bit of terminology on the difference of an aircraft carrier and an amphibious warship. Russia uses the confusion to bypass an international naval Treaty barring flattops from passing through Turkish waters:

In pressing its power projection capability in the Black Sea again, Russia asserts that introduction of the Mistral-type helicopter carriers in the Black Sea does not violate the 1936 Montreux Convention, which is interpreted and enforced by Turkey, Russia’s other “strategic partner.”

Under the Montreux Convention, aircraft carriers are banned from passing through the Turkish Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits. However, Russia claims the Mistral carriers do not meet the criteria of carriers as outlined in the convention.

If the French approve the sale slated for sometime in November, the Russians will most likely put their Ka-27 and Ka-29 helicopters on the Mistral.

But consider what function each particular ship performs, which is power projection by the use of airpower, in the Mistral’s case, helicopters rather than fixed-wing jets. We had this argument in the comments last week when yours truly referred to the planned Australian Canberra class “Landing Helicopter Dock” as light carriers. We also recall a time back in the 70s when a certain naval power was constructing “through deck cruisers” to avoid the prevailing political bias against large decks. And Japan just received first of the new Hyuga class, ahem, “helicopter destroyers”.



Who Would Notice?

Northrop Grumman Corp, the builder of the mighty Ford class supercarrier, promises it will keep costs in line for the $14 billion vessel. Honestly, who would notice if they did go over budget?

Northrop will lay the keel of the Gerald R. Ford, the first of a new class of aircraft carriers — an enormous floating city that will be nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall — at its Newport News shipyard on Saturday,

The Navy put the cost of research and development on the new ship at $3.6 billion plus $2.87 billion for detailed design work. The first ship, CVN 78, will cost $8.7 billion to build, excluding those costs, said Lieutenant Commander Victor Chen.

Mike Shawcross, Northrop vice president for the Ford-class carrier program, said the company had implemented several measures to beef up oversight and make sure the Navy clearly understood the production impact of any design changes.

When you start getting into the billions of dollars, savings is no longer a factor. Note that this price doesn’t even include the $100 million each fighter jets needed to make her more than a gold-plated barge. Want to show savings? Don’t build this monster of another age! Rely more on smaller ships which don’t strain our shrinking shipbuilding budget to the brink, like small carriers, and missile firing warships.



18 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 14, 2009 2:29 pm

    Joe said “If the DoD is not going to open up the shipbuilding budget of the Navy beyond $14B anytime soon, then something has to change and that is the biggest thing we build – the carriers”

    I’m glad we are in agreement here. Love to see the Navy live within its means. Some of the weapons that the admirals place high priority on, usually the most expensive like supercarriers, aren’t in dire need of replacing, and aren’t the only vessels required in wartime. It calls for a balanced fleet. They usually bypass this excuse of unneeded vessels in that they must keep the expertise in shipbuilding, especially nuclear ships. I don’t think this strategy is working so well because of the numerous shipyards closing on a regular basis. They can’t just build one or two navy ships per year and expect to survive.

    Following the numbers, I see the failure of the mindset that fewer higher quality warships is the best route for this country. If it isn’t working for Britain who has less need of a global presence, why think fewer vessels for many missions is the right choice for America?

  2. Joe permalink
    November 14, 2009 12:12 pm


    I never have doubted your overall theme of calling for reform in the way we select projects and procure. It’s one reason I hang around your blog more than I do any other military-themed one to begin with. I too can look at big numbers – being a CPA – and see that $9 billion is a lot more than $3 billion and from that you can extrapolate a lot of alternative futures if you pursue the cheaper route…it really opens up the shipbuilding budget in a lot of ways. I understand that and those are legitimate avenues to explore.

    Two things. First: Given that the Ford class is here to stay at least for the initial flattop plus maybe 2-3 follow-on ships – perhaps more – a savings discussion is far from hypothetical. Indeed, if you make the case that every $billion$ counts, then discussing savings in the $billions$ is definitely pertinent…even if you feel them to be “savings” in the vein of your wife going shopping at a 50% off sale and buying twice as much.

    Most of what I disagree with you on is on various sub-arguments related to “why” this should be done/not done, ala the ‘cost savings issue’ above. None of us can make a perfect argument for change, but on overall themes of what needs to be done I agree with you.

    Second: If the DoD is not going to open up the shipbuilding budget of the Navy beyond $14B anytime soon, then something has to change and that is the biggest thing we build – the carriers. That is logic enough to me.

    I would expand the naval ship budget beyond $14B if I had the power to do so, but that’s not my call. As such, to have a Navy that is more than just carriers and Burke’s, I’d build the LHA-6’s, add ski-jumps to them, and allow F-18’s or F-35B/C’s to fly off their decks. I do think that an airpower option beyond UCAVs would be requested by the Admirals and might have to be discussed if you wanted to make such a ‘sea change’ in the Navy’s thought processes.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 13, 2009 2:47 pm

    James, I agree with you and that is completely OK. I just think it interesting how nations get programs into service. Back in the battleship age school children would do fund raising to help buy a dreadnought.

  4. November 13, 2009 12:08 pm

    I think what the British Government called the Invincible Class Carriers is pretty impressive – ‘Through Deck Cruisers’. For political reasons, after post Suez the Government had decided to phase out Carriers.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 13, 2009 4:54 am

    Joe said “I’m simply saying that it appears your logic is being influenced by your emotions on the subject when you argue the subject.”

    Concerning the USS America post, far from my favorite one and some regrets in writing it. That was my attempt to bring down the costs of fixed wing air, and sometimes $3 billion does sound better when you start talking about $8-$10-and $14 billion vessels. You try to work with what the Navy gives us, which isn’t much, you fail and then move on.

    So in my clumsy way I will still continue to call for reform. It beats extinction. Every year the Navy finds new ways to justify the ever shrinking fleet, while failing to address the problems of modern warfare, even those most minor of threats of piracy. Since we started deploying our carriers in the Gulf regularly in the late 70s, they have consistently failed to address the problems of over-deployment of our sailors, keeping them at sea for extended periods will little relief. Now we have half the fleet we did in the 80s, but just as many deployments, maybe more.

    They have addressed the needs of this new century by building ever fewer, apparently more capable ships. They have failed, in our view, to accept new ideas which might be force multipliers, for the sake of tradition. By building platforms which are ever more exquisite and harder to build, like the Ford class, they forget what the real purpose of these ships are as “carriers”. Thanks to advances in precision technology, you don’t need as many planes to destroy a target in the past, but here is a ship built to carry at least 100 aircraft (normally they only carry 70, with less than 50 fighter bombers).

    When you have a naval leadership which is actively seeking to bring down fleet numbers, causing their own demise, you have to question the judgment. The first choice is for fewer ships which can apparently do many wonderful things, none of them well, but still can’t be in many places at once. The first duty of a navy is to “show up”, but how can you do this without ships? Just follow the numbers, and all will become clear. The Navy is smaller and the future calls for even less.

    The missiles, the JDAMs, UAVs, modern sensors, all these have revolutionized the way we fight on land and in the air. Yet the Navy is still putting sails on their steamships. In other words, by trying to fit their own dated theories of warfare, that no one will ever shoot at their ships, or that any future war will be of the short variety, they justify the smaller, gold plate fleet.

    So am I passionate about these problems being ignored? Certainly! At least when the next war at sea comes they won’t be able to say they didn’t know these things.

  6. Tarl permalink
    November 13, 2009 3:06 am

    A billion dollars will get you 10 more F-35s or 20 more F/A-18s. So yes, if you saved a billion dollars, you would notice it because you now have a bigger air wing.

  7. Hudson permalink
    November 13, 2009 1:21 am

    Gentlemen, the future is already here. On YouTube you can watch MTHEL THEL (Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser) zap three mortar rounds in flight…one…two…three. The range of this experimental weapon is only a few miles, but of course the implications are enormous.

    Though not specifically designed to mount high energy lasers (not sure of this), the Zumwalt destroyer generates the power to employ these weapons, much more than a Burke, for example, though I don’t know what the threshold kilowatts are for the laser. I think it was designed with the rail gun in mind. Unfortunately, the Navy larded the Zumwalts with too many other weapons systems, driving the costs too high. Despite their faults, the Zumwalts are the Navy’s first true 21st Century weapon.

    You can bet that in a few years lasers will show up on Navy ships. Nuclear carriers could mount them for self-defense. Lasers might not compensate for other deficiencies; one can imagine a silent sub torpedoing a laser ship as it merrily knocks hostile objects from the sky. Anyway, lasers, rail guns and the like will be interesting systems to watch develop.

  8. B. Walthrop permalink
    November 12, 2009 10:39 pm

    Heretic has brought up a couple of the potential technologies that I believe a Carrier Alternative post might attempt to address. Carrier(L) TM might not be the right prescription either. What would the appropriate ship look like if the FEL is capable of sweeping both manned and unmanned aircraft from the sky at will. It begs the question because we are building ships (at great cost whether they are Super-Carriers or Carrier (L) class) that may be subject to this very game changing technology.


  9. Joe permalink
    November 12, 2009 9:14 pm

    No, Mike, you actually said When you start getting into the billions of dollars, savings is no longer a factor.

    Holding that thought for a moment, let’s go back to June 10, 2009, when you said the following:

    Some might contend that the cost of a smaller conventional carrier isn’t much less than of a full sized nuclear supercarrier. With a new Marine carrier like the USS America coming in at $3 billion, this is not an exaggerated statement.

    We think the high cost of America and her sisters are the product of lack of competition in US shipyards as well as the ongoing mismanagement. With a drastic overhaul of shipbuilding practices, greater competition, even building ships in foreign yards, big savings could incur, perhaps bringing us closer to the $1 billion mark. LINK

    So…let’s review and sum up.

    I guess fantastical, potential savings are important when it’s a multi-billion dollar vessel you believe in, but any possible savings from a multi-billion dollar vessel you don’t believe in (the words “gold-plated barge” kind of gave that away) shouldn’t be factored into any kind of analysis.

    Are the Fords what we need to be doing? Not my point one way or the other in this posting. I’m simply saying that it appears your logic is being influenced by your emotions on the subject when you argue the subject.

  10. Heretic permalink
    November 12, 2009 5:03 pm

    Dunno about Mike, but I can easily see two technologies that are already in development putting the deep six on the supercarrier. Those two technologies would be Free Electron Lasers (FEL) and Railguns.

    FEL are going to be a Line of Sight weapon that is going to be an extremely difficult countermeasure to overcome. Just about the only ways that I can forsee to penetrate a FEL based defensive system (from the air) are supersaturation (ie. launching more weapons than the FEL is capable of countering, also known as swarming) and … guile … which includes subterfuge of nearly all varieties.

    Railguns will permit Non-Line of Sight bombardment attacks, and at closer ranges will pack so much kinetic energy as to pretty much “blow through” anything in the sky a projectile touches (at Mach 10!). With a gunnery range of somewhere in the 200km radius region in indirect fire mode, with a flight time dramatically less than that of any missile currently in use, and with a pure kinetic (as opposed to high explosive) means of inflicting damage, ammo for these guns will be “simple” inert slugs (machined to exacting tolerances) that require remarkably little upkeep, maintenance or special safety measures.

    Both systems are “electric weapons” which mean that a move towards nuclear power will be strongly justified on any (gun)ship that mounts both of these systems. A combination of FEL + Railgun may very well spell a death knell for a wide swath of aerial strike missions against ships with these armaments.

  11. B. Walthrop permalink
    November 12, 2009 4:08 pm


    It would interest me for you to give your thoughts on emerging technologies that would make an aircraft carrier (any aircraft carrier) irrelevant over a long term time horizon.

    I understand your stance that favors what you call light carriers over the current super-carrier construct. As things stand, I believe that super-carriers (or light carriers for that matter) continue to represent a relevant capability. That said, the vision for the Ford class (and Nimitz) class carriers is that these ships are designed to have a fifty year service life. That means these ships are assumed to be relevant past the time that I (and most of the people on this blog) will even be alive.

    I can imagine some technologies (that are already in development) that will impact the relevance of any aircraft carrier over their projected service life. Timing the transition to that brave new world remains to be debated, but I’d like to see your thoughts on long term technologies that will challenge the relevance of aircraft carriers (of any size) over the next five decades to a century. I understand that this would merely be a thought exercise, and any projections offered will probably not play out as envisioned. For example, who would have thought that the B-52 would eventually be relevant over about a 100 year service life of the platform.


  12. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 12, 2009 1:13 pm

    Joe P it was as I said, when you start reaching that $10 billion mark, can savings really be seriously considered, or should it? It’s like putting all green friendly light bulbs in every lamp of your 100 room mansion. It makes little difference.

    Norman-thanks for your insight. It is always good to get closer view of an issue than we across the ocean might see at times!

  13. Joe (P.) permalink
    November 12, 2009 12:21 pm

    I’ve thought that in past reading the increased automation of the Ford class is supposed to reduce overall crew complement by about 1,000 with a cost savings of $1.0 – $1.5 billion-ish over the lifetime of a carrier. Is that an accurate recollection or is the number higher or lower?

  14. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 12, 2009 11:26 am

    The Russians learned a lot about what missiles could do to choppers in Afghanistan. Missiles have improved a lot since then. Helos, less so.

  15. Norman Fiedler permalink
    November 12, 2009 10:18 am

    First I’d like to congradulate for this very interesting blog. Second I might say a few words to myself since I never posted here before. In fact I am from Germany and commented on Blogs like Defence and Freedom by Sven Ortmann fore example. Considering the German Mehrzweckeinsatzschiff-concept
    it seems to me quite half-baked at the moment. Especially in comparison to the JSS. Furthermore I do not think either of them ever will be commissioned due to the costs of such vessels, for reasons of usefulness and because of the fear such capabilities would seem too aggressive to the German population (defence only, militarism, WWII, blah blah..). Following some remarks of our inspector-general of the navy on that issue (, in German only) these ships should fulfill the following requirements: fleet replenishment, mcm, mission control, transport of air/sea-systems, med-evac-missions. To tell the truth I do not really understand in what extent this design differs significantly from the already existing type 702 Fleet repleninishing ships. The JSS however looks like a customary LPD.

  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 12, 2009 9:42 am

    Joe said -“Have you even looked at what’s being put into the Ford-class?”

    I don’t have anything against the Ford class. For what its worth I think it a good design. Its the entire concept of giant warships which bleed funds for other essential naval missions. I don’t care how wonderful its capabilities, it is still an $8 billion each class, a horrible waste considering the threats poised against it and the alternatives available.

    I’m not sure I understand your point about my German carrier comment. I am for all types of naval aviation alternatives, including light carriers. Actually this wouldn’t this be “more” for Germany, but a first, right? I think you can do without them of course, but if you must have them this is the way to go.

    Scott, you are leaving out the threat to helicopters from missiles, like Barak, ESSM, ect.

  17. Distiller permalink
    November 12, 2009 9:28 am

    @ possible German plans: That’s why LMCO always has Germany up as potential F-35(B) customer on its presentations, isn’t it? A German version of the Cavour would fit, kind of payback for the Italians buying U212.

  18. Joe K. permalink
    November 12, 2009 8:13 am

    Have you even looked at what’s being put into the Ford-class? Advanced arresting gear, a new radar system due for the Zumwalt-class, electromagnetic catapults that can be adjusted for different aircraft, increased automation to reduce crew complement, and a new nuclear reactor with greater power generation than the Nimitz-class.

    Also this is the first ship that is being designed virtually before construction. The designers actually set up 3D mock-ups of each section so that they can ensure that crew would have full access to areas without any awkwardly-positioned pipes or bulkheads.

    And with your remark about Germany producing more multi-role carriers, doesn’t that go against what you’ve been recommending? You’ve been advocating the USN’s decentralization of power among its ships to reduce the chance a single attacker could knock out a significant portion of the fleet. Why should Germany build something that isn’t good enough for the USN in your mind?

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