Carrier Alternative Weekly
“I do not have a specific need for an aircraft carrier.”
This amazing statement from a US Admiral is via David Axe, as spoken by the commander of the 4th Fleet Rear Admiral Joseph Kernan, also a former Navy SEAL:
What does 4th Fleet not need? “I do not have a specific need for an aircraft carrier,” Kernan said. His words are a compelling window into the future of naval forces. As maritime security and humanitarian operations become more urgent and widespread, the argument for aircraft carriers grows weaker, while that for cheaper, more numerous amphibious ships and shallow-water vessels — plus surveillance drones — grows stronger.
Just astounding. What does the Admiral require? How about “the Littoral Combat Ship, the Joint High-Speed Vessel and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.” The latter meaning drones, says Axe.
Japan Unveils Even Bigger Aircraft Carrier Helicopter Destroyer
Plans are underway for a new 20,000 ton “helicopter destroyer” for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, to complement the recently commissioned 15,000 ton Hyuga, according to Asahi:
The planned helicopter destroyer will have a length of 248 meters, a displacement of 19,500 tons and a capability to transport up to 14 helicopters, 4,000 people and 50 trucks. It would also be able to refuel other ships.
To the untrained eye, the helicopter destroyer looks like an aircraft carrier…
Also to the trained nose, we smell conflict brewing in the Western Pacific. We also find it interesting the Japanese are referring to land wars to justify the giant ship, just as the USN does with its nuclear attack carriers:
As in the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq, aircraft carriers have been a main maritime base of attack for the U.S. military.
Yet, the vessel most required of navies in this new era seems to be small patrol ships to combat piracy.
Neighbors Fret Over Franco/Russian Carrier Deal
Often maligned by proponents of Big Deck aviation ships, the small carriers can stir up considerable trouble, in disproportion to their size, as proved with recent Japanese ships, and with a planned sale of a French helicopter carrier to Russia. Here is the UPI:
But selling Russia Mistral-class ships during the economic slowdown may appear a deft diplomatic move, analysts say.
“Is Paris prepared not only to overlook but to reward aggression, ignore the shredding of a cease-fire crafted and signed by its president, accept the help of Georgia soldiers in Afghanistan but enforce an unacknowledged arms embargo against Georgia and meanwhile sell advanced arms to Russia?” questioned the Georgia Daily.
As a NATO member, France may be pressured by the United States to cancel any prospects of a deal in arms and technology that could be used against Georgia.
Estonia, meantime, has also warned that it may be forced to “take security measures” because Russia would have a “considerable advantage in the Baltic Sea,” the Estonia Free Press reported.
As we often say, any aviation capable warship can be an asset to a Navy, and as we see from the concerns of the small countries around Russia, which she once held captive, small carriers are a major force to be reckoned with.
Reaper’s versus the Pirates
The Navy now are using Reaper drones in the maritime reconnaissance role in the War on Piracy. With its greater persistence, we can see the craft substituting for carrier aircraft from land bases, without expensive escorts, able to operate over a vast distance without refueling. From Strategypage we read:
By carrying no weapons at all, which is how the ones in the Seychelles will operate, they can stay in the air for over 24 hours at a time. The U.S. Air Force is sending 75 airmen to the Seychelles to maintain the two or three Reapers that will be based there. The operators, based in the United States, control the Reapers via a satellite link. This will be the first time the Reaper has been used for maritime reconnaissance. The manufacturer has been pushing the Reaper (which is three times heavier than the Predator) as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft, and this will be realistic test. The reason for doing it now is because the monsoon (rainy) season is over. That means the weather is clear and the seas are calm in the region. This is perfect pirate weather, as they can spot large merchant ships, and go after them in their speed boats.
A fully equipped, for maritime patrol, Reaper costs over $20 million each. Such a reaper can spot ships below night and day, and has cameras that can zoom in on any ship or speedboat for a detailed video close up. A P-3 aircraft can only stay in the air for half as long as a Reaper, but carriers more sensors and weapons. A P-3 also requires a larger ground crew, and more maintenance after each flight.
We can also see the drones standing in for Navy helicopters on occasion, operating with non-aviation ships like patrol vessels or corvettes. While there are such substitutes available for aviation ships, as we see with the Reaper and its unmatched range, we see no such stand-in for warships in the sea control mission, anymore than we will ever lose a requirement for boots on the ground!
“the last of the big carriers”
Again we hear from Strategypage on something which makes so much sense. Concerning aircraft carriers, less would be more:
While the navy would prefer to design and build the first generation UCAVs for use on existing carriers, these smaller and cheaper aircraft go together well with smaller and cheaper carriers. This means the Ford class may be the last of the big carriers. That’s because UCAVs mean you can get more aircraft on a carrier, and that creates a traffic jam type situation. Moreover, the widespread use of smart bombs means you need fewer bombers over the target. A 50-60,000 ton carrier, with three dozen F-35Bs, UCAVs, UAVs and support aircraft, can be as effective as a Nimitz with 70 F-18s and support aircraft. Thus the Ford class may not completely replace the Nimitz class on a one-for-one basis. The sharply rising cost of building American warships may force the adoption of a smaller, cheaper, carrier class. Much like the Seawolf subs were replaced by the Virginias and the DDG-1000 is being replaced by, well, something smaller and more affordable.
I think Mr Dunnigan and company just committed heresy, but the truth will set the Navy and its stretched thin budget free.
Single Carrier Seeking Fighter
We continue to watch with interest India’s uphill attempts to replace its aged naval air wing with newer vessels. Ongoing for decades has been their struggle to replace older VSTOL ships purchased from Britain with a truly modern fixed-wing vessel. Here is more on this story from the Times of India:
With the development of the naval version of the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) floundering, the Navy has launched a hunt for a new fighter to operate from its aircraft carriers in the pipeline. Navy has issued an RFI (request for information) to several global aviation majors, including American Boeing, French Dassault and Russian MiG companies, for ‘an alternate deck-based aircraft’.
‘‘Information is being sought to acquire over 40 fighters for the 40,000-tonne IAC-I (indigenous aircraft carrier), being built at the Cochin shipyard and expected to roll out by 2014-2015 now, and IAC-II, which will follow later,’’ said a source.
As reported by TOI earlier, lack of long-term strategic planning has meant that the 28,000-tonne aging carrier INS Viraat is fast running out of its Sea Harrier jump-jets, even as the first lot of MiG-29Ks for the 44,570-tonne Admiral Gorshkov will begin arriving in a few days but the carrier itself will come from Russia only in early-2013.
They may actually/eventually pull this off. But after decades of distraction, billions of dollars spent, we have to question whether it will be worth it all, when there are so many other alternatives to fixed-wing airpower? Not that such vessels aren’t useful, but we have to wonder if its worth stretching a nation’s resources to the limit, when the major threat at sea seems to be pirates in speed boats, terrorists who attack from the sea, or submarines which have little to fear from Big Decks, though the opposite isn’t true.
What does India really require? Lets hear from one of their own, defense analyst Maroof Raza, also writing in the Times:
What we need immediately to prevent a Mumbai-II are not two or more aircraft carriers and 126 new fighter jets, but new maritime reconnaissance aircraft – like Northrop Grumman’s Nimrod MRA4 or the Boeing P81 multi-mission aircraft – and more ‘eyes in the skies’ with AWACS and remotely flown UAVs, as well as replacements for our aging fleet of AN32 and IL76 transport aircraft. More than longer range artillery guns, the army needs to replace its old war horses like the HSA316B Chetak and the HS315B Cheetah helicopters. But above all, we must modernize the cutting edge of our sword – the infantry units – as a multi-terrain force to fight tomorrow’s dirty wars. And we must do that fast, because terrorists aren’t going to wait eternally before they hit us again.