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Carrier Alternative Weekly

November 19, 2009

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH 181) leads a formation of U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships during Annual Exercise (ANNUALEX 21G).

Calcutta’s Carrier Conundrum

It’s official now. None of the 2 new British aircraft carriers will be going to India as earlier reported. Still, it seemed like a good idea, so much that we “scooped” the plan last week while working on the draft for this week’s post. I kept the proposal in, because next year’s UK Defence Review might still hold some surprises!

 We have posted on this story before, of India’s continous attempts to replace aging warships and create a modern naval air arm. In so doing, they find themselves in an amazing predicament, in no wise unique, according to the Times of India:

On one hand, it has an aging but newly-refurbished aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, which is fast running out of fighters which can operate from its deck.

On the other, it’s soon going to induct another type of maritime fighters but no suitable carrier to operate them from. Navy will get Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov only by early-2013 but will begin inducting its MiG-29Ks later this month.

So she has the fighters but no new carrier, in other words, up the creek without a paddle. Britain will soon have the Queen Elizabeth carriers but can’t afford enough aircraft to fill their massive decks. There’s your answer! Britain sells her 2 unneeded and unaffordable flattops to India, spend the rest on restoring the Royal Navy’s fallen numbers of surface ships and submarines, perhaps enough left over to start start funding on a second HMS Ocean class. Problem solved!

Not quite so easy. Since we drafted the last paragraph, Royal Navy Chief Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope in the Times has declared his service’s intent to see the 4 billion pound program to the end:

The Government, he said, was committed to building two aircraft carriers, and it made little sense to start talking about scaling them down to smaller ships. He dismissed a report that one of the carriers might be switched to a helicopter carrier, instead of having the Joint Strike Fighter F35, the replacement for Harriers. “We can put more helicopters on the platform if we want but we will not be converting one of the 64,000-tonne carriers into a helicopter carrier,” he said.

The admiral said that the £4 billion carrier programme involved 10,000 workers and 57 British companies. He also pointed out that a considerable amount (about £1 billion) had already been spent on the two ships which will be called HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. The two carriers which would be around for 40 years, represented “a good investment”.


India’s “Rust Bucket” Carrier

Speaking of India and British carrier deals, we thought the following post from the Punch blog, concerning the Viraat/Hermes (which turned 50 yesterday) quite humorous:

The saga of the Indian rust buckets (air craft carriers) is a funny one. Bharat is using a 50s vintage bucket—which is now being replaced by a very expensive one—if Delhi and Moscow can ever agree to a price tag.The normal life of a ship is 20 years. This aircraft carrier was obsoleted by the British in the 80s. The huge expense has not project Bharati power anywhere. It has been unable to use this colossal white elephant anywhere. Not in one situation has it been able to project any power. It is like taking a Kia to race car to impress people that you have a car.the Viraat rust bucket hosts 18 obsolete Harrier planes. The words “power” and Viraat should not be used in the same sentence. it is anything but powerful.

She’s pretty old, no doubt. In her defense, the Viraat has performed decades of service for first Britain then India, while their own “new” carrier programs seems as far away as ever, and the Gorshkov saga mentioned ongoing for the whole decade, with consistent delays and costs overrun, probably not over yet.

And the Viraat/Hermes not powerful? Tell it to the Argentines!


No-Go Zone

From, here is an update on the Chinese carrier-killing anti access weapon, the DF-21 (CSS-5) ballistic missile:

China’s military is close to fielding the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile, according to U.S. Navy intelligence.  The missile, with a range of almost 900 miles (1,500 kilometers), would be fired from mobile, land-based launchers and is “specifically designed to defeat U.S. carrier strike groups,” the Office of Naval Intelligence reported. Five of the U.S. Navy’s 11 carriers are based in the Pacific and operate freely in international waters near China. Their mission includes defending Taiwan should China seek to exercise by force its claim to the island democracy, which it considers a breakaway province.

The missile could turn this region into a “no-go zone” for U.S. carriers, said Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budget Assessments in Washington.

The US Navy’s entire Maritime Strategy since at least the Korean War is a fleet centered around the giant aircraft carrier able to launch its planes against enemy shore targets, with a secondary role of sea control. Having no peer seapower as an enemy during this time period, means the sea control issue has fallen far from the minds of the air-minded admirals. So focused are they on the land threat, they are now arming all of our Aegis radar and missile armed destroyers and cruisers with weapons able to destroy land-based ballistic missiles in flight. The folly of this land-centric focus of the US Navy is now clear, seemingly justified by each new brush-fire against poorly armed continental powers, from Korea to Iraq, yet obviously these have been the wrong lessons. The ideal scenario of running a 100,000 flattop against an enemy coastline which we’ve enjoyed for 60+years can no longer be realistically contemplated.


Note-Realizing this is the second time in a row I have featured the Japanese light carrier/destroyer Hyuga in the post, but what a great new photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John M. Hageman and the USN website! I believe that is USS Essex (LHD 2) in the background.


21 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 20, 2009 3:58 pm

    Michael said “the first sentence was a quote from a posting by Tarl ”

    I got it! I was agreeing with you, and very much so!

  2. m.ridgard permalink
    November 20, 2009 7:43 am

    Sorry Mike if I didn’t make it clear,the first sentence was a quote from a posting by Tarl which I was replying to.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 20, 2009 5:23 am

    Michael said “Fighting land powers is a primary issue,the purpose of gaining sea control is to enable your navy to fight land powers.
    Well thats a new one to me,and I would suggest to most naval strategists.”

    It is really a new thing, and according to my studies, stems mainly from post-war competition among the services over here. If you study the history of the USN supercarriers, there were not born out of lessons from warfare, but to carry the atomic bomb. That was a touchy subject back then and the admirals were fearing for their careers and relevance in an age when airpower was king.

    Just as the new supercarriers began coming online, we started deploying SSBN Polaris, which solved the Navy’s A-bomb launching conundrum, and is probably still the best way to do it. But since they had the carriers, and no (or little) peer threat at sea, their only recourse was to use the world’s most powerful and expensive surface warships for something they weren’t designed, in our numerous brush fire wars against Third World dictators in alliance with Soviet communism.

    It’s was either that or go back and build light carriers. Guess which idea won out, and from these early days you can see the rapid decline and aging of the once awe-inspiring US Fleet. Today they downplay this inconvenient truth by saying “our ships are so much more capable now”. That may be true, but somebody tell the pirates they’re supposed to be afraid of our gold-plated wonders.

  4. m.ridgard permalink
    November 20, 2009 5:06 am

    Fighting land powers is a primary issue,the purpose of gaining sea control is to enable your navy to fight land powers.
    Well thats a new one to me,and I would suggest to most naval strategists.
    Also your remark,’control of the sea confers no advantage unless you can project power from it’
    You obviously don’t live on a small island who imports 95% of its needs by sea,who relys almost entirely on imported oil and natural gas and imports approx 40% of its food.
    That you see is why some countries need to control the sea lanes,they are a lifeline to there very existance and nothing to do with projecting power from.
    This also relates to large land masses as in the case of China,one of the reasons they are building a large fleet is to protect their sea lanes for their ever increasing reliance on oil and raw materials to feed a burgeoning economy.
    I find your thinking quite strange,or perhaps if you live in the U.S.A. it is just insular.

  5. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 20, 2009 12:21 am


    I’m sorry if I lost my cool. I just have a low tolerance for stupidity. I mean, our biggest, most expensive CVNs & escorts use computing systems which are pound-for-pound less sophisticated then the computers you and I use. It’s criminal & idiotic.

  6. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 20, 2009 12:18 am

    This may sound goofy but it ain’t. The problem with large integrated electronic systems is that they’re hideously difficult to upgrade. I interned at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as a writer in ’97 as a writer. We were using ’80s vintage word processors. The Graffics team (a modular unit) was up to date. Why the problem on the news end?

    We didn’t have the time or luxury to take the system down, compartmentalize it & upgrade it. Our system was networked & we couldn’t take it down to get it up to speed. Modern capital ships have the same problem & broadly, so do our command systems. Network-centric command systems will always lag behind modular systems. They’re integrated but they’re old & vulnerable to newer, more flexible modular operating systems. I’m not advocating for a Transformer’s style LCS. I AM observing that some of the most effective air & naval battle platforms from the last 50-60 years were based on solid ships & planes (Spectre/Spooky, the Iowa BBs, the B-52) that WEREN’T designed as net-centric confabulations. It’s easier to upgrade digital systems on an AC-130, Iowa-class battle-wagon or B-52 then it is to upgrade an Atari 2600 era Ticonderoga or Nimitz. Modular, replaceable electronics, given the speed of electronic evolution, will ALWAYS kick the tail off of massive integrated electronic systems that end up being deployed 20 years after they’re obsolete. Even Tom Clancy, Master of War Porn, implicitly acknowledged this. Sorry for the rant, guys.

  7. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 19, 2009 6:02 pm


    That MoD memo / announcement was sorta brief – like, only a short paragraph. So, maybe the message was skipped over…

    I expect this particular story line to continue for another one to two weeks, no matter how many or what degree of denials are issued.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 19, 2009 5:45 pm

    The RN/India carrier deal is still be reported by the Media:

    Someone didn’t get the MoD memo.

  9. Tarl permalink
    November 19, 2009 5:32 pm

    a navy is about sea control, not fighting land powers, which is only a secondary issue.

    Fighting land powers is a primary issue. The purpose of gaining sea control is to enable your Navy to fight land powers and facilitate your other forces when they are fighting land powers.

    The sea, in and of itself, is militarily useless. Control of the sea confers no advantage unless you can project power from it and deny others the ability to project power from it.

    Considering the caliber of our foes, this prohibitively expensive strategy has the fleet on a death spiral. It is all unnecessary over-kill.

    Building a Navy that has no purpose beyond fighting pirates and similar rabble would be cheap, in the sense that you’d probably need a few dozen lightly-armed frigates at most. Things would get expensive, however, as soon as you realized that you’d conceded command of the global commons and other people could deny it to you. Command of the sea, like air superiority, is something we’ve had for so long we take it for granted, and don’t realize that the “unnecessary over-kill” that gives us command of the sea is in fact quite necessary indeed.

  10. November 19, 2009 5:05 pm

    There is no need for RN crews to be as large as they are today. Container ships go to sea with a crew of 15. There is no reason why QE class shouldn’t have a crew of a similar size to the new Daring class. Even if you add say 50 extra bods to cover air ops. Damage control isn’t a valid argument if sprinklers etc. are used.

    Of course I speaking about the ship’s crew and not air group personnel. Then again the RN has always been quite economical on that front. The RAF need a cast of thousands to get even a Tucano into the air………. :)

  11. steve coltman permalink
    November 19, 2009 12:35 pm

    I attended a lecture (from the man in charge of the building program)about the two new RN carriers this week. They are far too advanced now to be cancelled without wasting much money already spent. My main concern was running costs and it was interesting to learn that the crew and fuel consumption of these 65,000-tonners is no greater that that of the 20,000-tonne Invincibles. Some kind of sea-based air-power is essential if the RN is to play a world-wide role, so although I would not have advocated ships this big I think there is no alternative but to carry on. At £2.5bn each they are still a bargain compared with the US super-carriers. PS you can’t ‘convert’ these to helicopter carriers, what’s to ‘convert’?

  12. November 19, 2009 11:54 am

    “I do not what you are getting at.” should read “I do know what you are getting at.”

  13. November 19, 2009 11:52 am

    “You still have to build 2 giant decks to make up for the presence of 2 small decks. Where then are the savings?”

    Governments don’t buy equipment that way. They don’t say “Lets spend a third to half more and buy two carriers.” They buy one of the cheaper models. Turning your 12 carriers into 16 or 18 may increase presence but what about the additional tankers and oilers etc. that will be needed? (Of course the US does over man so there would be savings there……)

    Of course you shifted the goal posts as both my small carriers were in the same CBG attacking China. You took one of your small carriers and moved it somewhere else! :)

    I do not what you are getting at.

  14. Hudson permalink
    November 19, 2009 11:52 am

    Isn’t the Standard SM-3 missile, to be deployed by our Burke class destroyers, designed to shoot down ballistic missiles like the Chinese “carrier killers?”

  15. Joe K. permalink
    November 19, 2009 10:36 am

    I don’t see why Britain would sell their NEWEST carriers to India, monetary benefits aside. They would be giving the Indian Navy a piece of advanced hardware which the British would not possess. That’s stupid in terms of national security and property.

    I still see that you, Mike, seem to ignore the maintenance cost side of purchasing and operating a ship. Everyone knows when you buy a ship you’re going to have to pay for fuel at the least and then the maintenance servicing required to keep it from breaking down at sea. Even if you built a fleet of smaller ships, what’s to say your maintenance costs will be proportionately smaller? You insist on building craft that have the same advanced capabilities of the carriers, AEGIS destroyers and cruisers which means their servicing will cost significantly higher otherwise. And if you build more of them you’ll be racking up the maintenance costs because you have so many ships.

    But then again, I haven’t seen you able to comprehend that just as you can’t seem to come up with a way to convert our current Navy to YOUR specifications that is actually realistic.

  16. Joe permalink
    November 19, 2009 9:57 am

    Perhaps the “India buying Britain’s carriers” was someone’s midnight dream typed into a computer screen or a quickly shot down trial balloon – who knows?

    However, maybe the concept behind it all still makes sense. What about the U.S. buying the carriers, instead?

    Britain can’t really afford them, what with the specter of Edward Scissorhands being let loose at the MoD per next year’s defence review. Our Ford’s are, by comparison, more expensive and we’re under a relative naval ship-building budget “freeze” of sorts.

  17. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 19, 2009 9:27 am

    “Two 50,000 ton carriers cost more than one 100,000 ton carriers. ”

    I totally get that, but if you can ensure greater survivability, then the cost is negligible. If you can perform greater presence, in other words, if one small deck can perform the same mission as one giant deck (and we insist they can thanks to precision weaponry), there is your savings.

    You still have to build 2 giant decks to make up for the presence of 2 small decks. Where then are the savings?

  18. November 19, 2009 7:52 am

    “Certainly, but with the smaller ship costing less, you could afford several others, thus ensuing greater survivability. ”

    I don’t know. A carrier needs a minimum electronics fit (all the 4CIR whatever the current acronym is!!) and that is where the expense is. Not the steel that gives the vessel its size. Two 50,000 ton carriers cost more than one 100,000 ton carriers. You wouldn’t be able to field that many more of the non-escort large ships. Also you have to consider the cost and availability of the Chinese weapon. If they can only field one or two wonder weapons per attack you strategy may work. But I should imagine that they would be able to field many weapons for an attack. We are back to the Jeune Ecole type scenario.

    Sorry for being disjointed, spelling etc. I am busy.

  19. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 19, 2009 7:30 am

    “wonder weapon can hit the big ship it will also be able to hit the smaller ship. ”

    Certainly, but with the smaller ship costing less, you could afford several others, thus ensuing greater survivability. Also, as you say, with numbers you can let them worry about you instead of the smaller fleet constantly worried about being sunk.

    Tarl-a navy is about sea control, not fighting land powers, which is only a secondary issue. My problem with the fleet is this has become the principle strategy and justification for building Big Decks, thus minimising, even taking for granted the freedom of seas (as they have little interest in the piracy mission).

    Considering the caliber of our foes, this prohibitively expensive strategy has the fleet on a death spiral. It is all unnecessary over-kill.

  20. November 19, 2009 6:30 am

    As I have said here several times before now the difference in volume and dimensions between a 100,000ton and 40,000ton is small. The former isn’t twice the length or have twice the beam of the latter; the differences in dimension are what 10-20% per cent. If the Chinese wonder weapon can hit the big ship it will also be able to hit the smaller ship.

    Further if China (a generation or three behind the US) can build such weapon why can’t the US? What I am driving at is this. Surely this class of weapon invalidates China’s own carrier programme? Yet China is still keen on carriers…..

    This is like saying possessing RADAR would stop nations fielding aircraft.

    I don’t know. I am too busy at the moment to even speculate.

  21. Tarl permalink
    November 19, 2009 6:20 am

    The USN had no peer enemy at sea after 1945, so it had a land-centric focus, yet this was “folly” and learning the wrong lessons? What was the Navy supposed to do, focus on fighting naval opponents whom you admit basically didn’t exist? I’m trying to imagine what a Navy would look like that was incapable and unwilling to do anything else in Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm but fight the North Korean, North Vietnamese, and Iraqi navies. That would have been a truly irrelevant Navy, as opposed to the actual case in which the USN had great influence on the fight on land in all three cases.

    It is true that against China we won’t have the luxury of sailing around off their coastline with impunity. This hardly means the Navy shouldn’t try to affect the fight on land, it just means the Navy will have to do so from much further away than it is used to.

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