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Build Your Own Navy-Flattop Edition

December 3, 2009

The Navy and yours truly part company in terms of fleet composition. They continue to build ships that are individually capable, which they see as reducing overall operating costs for the entire fleet without reduction effectiveness. Yet they get less effective each year, with ships and crews overworked and the fleet stretched thin, consumed with increased Post Cold War missions with fewer, harder to build, more expensive platforms. Meanwhile, as the Navy looks long-term concerning operating costs over a vessel’s lifetime, the civilian buyers see the initial purchase price and are getting constant sticker shock from what the Admirals consider a “bargain”.

Higher construction costs are driving down ship numbers, not annual operating budgets. Rationally, if the price of individual ships were reduced, you could have real savings, though first you must get over the fear that economical ships are less capable, an assumption the Navy uses which we think is bogus. Add to the fact that simple and smaller ships coupled with new weapons and sensors developed in the late Cold War like advanced SAMs, cruise missiles, unmanned vehicles, have made warships individually more powerful than ever, raising our submarines and non-aviation ships to capital ship status. High tech platforms like the Fords, Burkes and Virginia ships are very capable, but we also should spread such capability throughout the fleet rather than concentrate it where it is less effective.

The Cost Effective versus an Effective Navy

The Navy then might say they can operate a single, large $6 billion supercarrier with 70 warplanes over its lifetime far cheaper than a $3 billion light carrier like the future America class with say, 30 F-35 JSF. This is probably a true  statement from an economic standpoint, especially with the price of fuel, the two smaller ships would be more costly over time, comparing the two types individually.

However if you factor in the effect of 10 light carriers, all fitted with precision bombers might have beside 10 supercarriers with the same weapons, the savings of the latter disappears. In other words, if a single light carrier can perform the standard presence mission done by the $6 billion ship, also in wartime the same attack mission (recalling that precision weapons now assure us “one bomb, one hit”), here you would see enormous savings. Specifically, small carriers take best advantage of the advances in precision bombing aircraft, manned or unmanned, since smart weapons do not require smart platforms.

  1. 10 x Nimitz class carriers-$60 billion
  2. 10 x America class light carriers-$30 billion

So we find that building the same number of light carriers which ship-for-ship is as effective as  large deck vessels, we have savings of $30 billion with which to do other things with. For example, if you are still worried about any loss of capability in small carriers, you could at least build 15 extra $2 billion each Burke destroyers to provide enhanced protection, and these multi-purpose ships can also perform presence themselves, as we often see with their anti-ballistic missile capability. Also more Virgina class subs, or you could pay for the entire LCS program. Better still would be the construction of new fleets of light corvettes, a hundred or so to fight pirates, rebuilding the long-neglected and under-appreciated flotilla in the US Navy.

You could be bolder still, by constructing ships similar to the European/Asian aircraft carriers that average 20,000 tons at $1.5 billion each. Using V/STOL planes, like the F-35B or the Harrier, and hopefully new UCAVs as they are available, you could only deploy 10 planes each, at most on your 10 carriers. This would not be an insignificant capability since you would still possess more V/STOL ships than all the world’s navies combined at present. Wait, there’s more! With leftover funds at a tremendous $45 billion would give you 22 new Aegis ships for defense and to join in the offense with cruise missiles. 80 LCS could be purchased or enough smaller corvettes to overwhelm the pirates and rogue states with numbers, something foreign to the US Navy since the 1960s.

  1. 10 x Nimitz class carriers-$60 billion
  2. 10 x Mistral (upgraded*) light carriers-$15 billion

So with smaller, reasonably priced warships, coupled with the new technology developed late in the Cold War, you would create a larger, more effective Navy. Instead of much power concentrated in a few increasingly vulnerable and worn-out Big Decks, you would have a larger fleet where power is dispersed among individually capable warships, supported, rather than dominated by naval airpower.

Note*-Mistral is about the size I had in mind but there are numerous alternatives such as the British HMS Ocean, the Japanese Hyuga, the S Korean Dokdo, the Italian Cavour. Only the last is V/STOL ready which is why the jump in price for Mistral from $800 million to $1.5 billion.

2nd Note-You might also recognize the price for the Nimitz class, which I low-balled just to be able to write this article with pertinent figures. The latest version of the class USS George HW Bush  prices at $6.2 billion. The next version, the USS Gerald Ford class is an estimated $14 billion for the first ship, $8 billion each thereafter. Total program cost for ten Fords is $86 billion. Like much of the American economy, the Navy is mortgaging away its future.


24 Comments leave one →
  1. Kurt permalink
    December 18, 2011 12:08 pm

    I should add that I don’t know how future mine warfare will work. Unmanned vehicles seem a suitable choice and self-defense against these.
    But why lay only explosive mines with sensors attached? What if you lay a more numerous network of sensors and markers with mines being unmanned vessels that receive information about targets from the markers and can be directed by broadcasted human command (fulfilling current legal requirements for sea mines). Such a network can be more resilent to countermeasures because of adaptable reactions and has more eyes in the water, plus can provide very good terminal guidance for all ordnance by sticking to the recognized target. Instead of damaging a ship, you can sink it and it’s far less weight to create a carpet of sensors with moving explosives than one of combined sensors and explosives.

  2. Kurt permalink
    December 17, 2011 6:21 pm

    The idea of the sea control ship build finally as the Spanish aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias was to have small ships do the control thing and big carriers doing the fighting thing. Small carriers offer more airfields and a better coverage if the tanker and range problem can be solved. Well, there seem several solutions possible. Sea control can be done with big carriers with tankers on board possibly mixed with few small carriers that use the big ship’s tankers for range extension. I could imagine up to 2 small carriers per large carrier that also offers better repair services for the aircrafts from the small carriers. These small carriers could be multi-purpose carriers with an amphibious warfare design like the Juan Carlos and few dedicated sea control ships for ASW. A different solution would be large, really large aerial refuelling tankers that are flying boats. These must be able to land in rough seas, but perhaps land on airfields in the sea that have been fenced with swimming USV breakwaters that transform the energy of incoming waves into own movement to reduce wave energy in the protected field (such a technology would also greatly improve large carrier operations that have to be suspended due to wheather). The mentioned flying boat aircrafts can travel long distances and use oilers for refuelling themselves, thus offer a great logistical advantage. At the same time such a design of a flying boat can be stuffed with torpedoes and sensors in order to go hunting for submarines at long range in ground effect flight (kind of Caspian Sea monster in the Atlantic) and the Russians were right that this design offers great capability for a missile arsenal, surprise landing troops or saving sailors from a wet death after an engagement went wrong. Well, such a monster tanker is a lot cheaper than a large aircraft carrier for tanker operations while a sea control ship can do with rather light multi-mission fixed wing aircrafts such as the Saab Gripen (perhaps with a stronger engine, better thrust vectoring and improved low observability) that in turn have less heavy spare parts.
    So if you follow the Caspian Sea monster trail that I prefer because it has the least complex logistics and offers the cheapest apporoach to sea control. Sea control is vital to being able to procure equipment, ordnance and fuel to fight an enemy and the side that has more problems with sea control of sea lines of communication will be out-equipped during the duration of a conflict.
    Well, fighting the enemy is for sure quite well carried out by large aircraft carriers that can handle high sortie rates and have capable countermeasures due to the immense energy from their machinery for the most powerful jamming devices and close in defense. But fighting from the air is just half the story, you need ground troops landing in enemy country and destroying and marking targets at close distances. So you need amphibious warfare ships. A clever concept in my opinion is having these amphibious warfare vessels as a very numerous class with modification packages for sea-control, LHA and LHD using economies of scale to reduce development costs for very similar ship designs.
    However these amphibious warfare ships as well as the aircraft carriers best keep their distance from the littoral high threat environment under the protection of one class of large warships that gets modular adaptions for different defence and attack missions, including arsenal ship capability. You can call it cruiser, destroyer or battleship, but ocean combat ship would be a more convenient name if you embrace the littoral combat ship. That also means a new mindset away from the old ship classifications that too often have lost their meaning.
    The littoral combat ship is a less capable ship as I said in a different post and it needs a silent big brother support via a very capable ship. In many cases ocean combat ships are this platform, but well, they aren’t littoral, so not very close to vessel under attack. There are two ways to solve the dilemma, load the littoral combat ship with capabilities until it’s a VCS on its own or design a class of large ships that can bring fighting power to the littorals. Looking at hull designs the M-shaped hull of the M80 stiletto seems the most suitable option to me for a ship with a large payload and a shallow draught while maneuvering at high speeds with low observeability. A suitable load for this vessel is for sure a missile arsenal that in my opinion should include light UAV fighters and long range very low observeability UAV bombers (much cheaper than a new cruise missile for each target). Of course this ship can also employ rotary wing and fixed wing STOBAR fixed wing aircrafts, but as a carrier it serves rather in the quick rearmament and range extension role close to the shore while its main task is as arsenal and quick amphibious support and flotilla air defense. After the VCS has been found the LCS can be reduced in size, increased in self-defense as part of a flotilla of ships with differing capabilities and get mission specific packages.Surviv eability is not just dependant on stealth or low observeability, the more correct and less buzzword term, but also on creating wrong impressions with imitations of real ships. If a saturation attack against a flotilla needs 100 missiles, how many more do you need if there are 5 imitating USV for each vessel that possibly have their own close in weapons for supporting the group under attack.
    You can reach a point where local missile supply gets exhausted or where shooting the ships is more expensive than building them, plus you really create stealth without being stealthy through lots of immitations that make you as delocalized as a particle under Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle because these aren’t the ship’s you’re looking for…

    Submarine is also quite interesting because there’s nothing that compares to a nuclear submarine in the ocean, so these best keep on hunting and carrying second strike capability. The question is again about the littorals, scale down and quiet nuclear submarines or employ cheaper conventional submarines with good AIP?
    The conventional submarines aren’t good at moving at speed under water for a long time. They’re good and cost efficient if they can wait for their prey and vary their position just slightly. the problem with that is that you can count on them being very close to important shipping lanes or moving fast with a snorkel. So if you want to move on the hunt there’s no alternative to nuclear, also in the littorals. The conventional submarines however offer a cost effective option for commando insertion and I would argue as arsenal submarines because there’s hardly an arsenal ship with better surviveability close to the enemy while long range strike capability with the help of UAV and USV reconnaissance are a prerequisite for all effective use of lurking submarines. The surprising step towards conventional arsenal (=guided missile) submarines in numbers is also the one of the best solutions for LCS protection by a very dangerous force you can’t locate.
    Back to the nuclear submarines, I think it’s possible to have just one type of nuclear hunting submarine that must be able to operate in very shallow water while still carrying no small crew in order to reduce indivual stress during the long deployment. Such a design can be quite tricky and possibly works best with a combination of reactor and rechargeable AIP (oxygen and hydrogen) in order to reduce heat emission near the surface by running on AIP and thus also eliminating any stealth gap to conventional submarines. Giving such a nuclear system to the arsenal submarines would be gold-plating them however because they don’t have to be very much on the move.

    So my suggestion for surface ships has few classes: large aircraft carriers, medium sized multi-purpose carriers, very large flying boats, ocean combat ships, littoral combat ships, littoral arsenal and carrier ships. For submarines i’d opt for one nuclear hunter that can switch to a very silent non-nuclear AIP supported by a large number of rather inexpensive conventional powered arsenal submarines (but any navy establishment will make them as nuclear as the hunter submarines) and a second strike missile carrying deep sea submarine force.
    So it’s just 6 types of surface combat ships and 3 types of submarines. That was very important to me because developing one type of machine requires lots of funds for developing and debugging. The more types of machines you have, the more you pay for development and the more difficult is their supply chain. A very clear example is the artillery of the Spanish Armada that wasn’t standardized and so rather not optimized and thus not capable of countering the English despite being a much larger investment in material than their enemy’s fleet. My idea, that’s certainly very European, is to have as few types as possible and adapt one type for different tasks according to requirements while using economy of scale to produce each type as cheap as possible.
    Well, so far the opinions of an armchair admiral who’s going to take a shower. What are your opinions on my post?

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 4, 2009 6:59 pm

    Graham-Go for it! I am curious what you will create.

  4. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 4, 2009 5:46 pm


    How about embarking on a Red Team variation of your build-a=fleet game? “Turn The 7th Fleet Into An Artificial Reef By Following This One Rule!”

    You know what I mean…

  5. B.Smitty permalink
    December 4, 2009 2:44 pm


    My guess is, at this point, building new B-1s now would approach the level of effort to design and build a clean-sheet design. The production line has been cold (and disassembled) for a long time now. The B-1B designs were based on 70s and 80s technology. All of that would have to be upgraded.

    We can still plan to have significant A2A capability in a new bomber design, even to the point of reserving space & power for a solid-state laser weapon. We can also make the choice to include some level of supercruise, if that makes (cost-effective) sense.

    I see the long-ranged UCAV and NGB as complementary. The NGB can have a secondary role as a “UCAV coordinator” in cases where bandwidth or SATCOM is denied.

  6. Joe permalink
    December 4, 2009 11:51 am

    B. Smitty,

    The B-1R was originally to redo the old B-1Bs with, but my idea is as a new-build bomber/fighter…able to put serious quantities of arms within the reach of hot/trouble spots at fairly short notice in a low-observable, high-speed package. And for an extra $99.99, a lifetime supply of carnuba wax.

    If put it into the naval mix, one could make the argument that X qty of these give you that option of either retiring Y amount of carrier-based airpower or simply having a reduced at-sea naval airpower presence and having planes such as these serve as “the calvary” that you’d call in an emergency.

    Mike’s warnings about emerging threats to carriers don’t fall on deaf ears here. I don’t think a threat to something invalidates the something (or else the infantryman has been obsolete for over 10,000 years) but one cannot take for granted that previously 3rd-class (at best) adversaries don’t possess the ability to give you a major black eye these days.

    But, you are right. As spiffy as I think my idea to be, the B-1Rs could not penetrate the best IADS out there and would have to rely on the speed and stealth of current and future cruise missiles. Your plan might be superior, overall. I’m a guy that owns a supercharged car, so expect me to give the “pro-high-speed” POV on things now and again :) :)

    I guess my major worry with UCAVs (not specifically what you proposed) is that if we come to rely too much on them for ever more roles, that given the computer/satellite/bandwidth necessities inherent in the platform, that an enemy could successfully attack that and ground an entire fleet. Maybe I invest too much in that concern??

    No platform is ever safe. With my notion of the “R”, an enemy would have to theoretically defeat each plane and/or each missile on those planes as opposed to attacking one crucial point in the process (satellites).

    Totally spot on about the B-52. Aged air asset but one that performs a vital role more cheaply than anything else in existence. Putting new engines on it could create a platform that *might* outlive me (42).

  7. B.Smitty permalink
    December 4, 2009 9:05 am

    Joe said, “But as I proposed once upon a time here, if you want to go with an all V/STOL-type naval airpower arm, build a modernized version of the B-1R concept, put it under the power of the navy (as the Air Force doesn’t want anything to do with it) and use that to replace the qty of bomb-on-target airpower that would be lost in the process. You would not always need them but they would be in reserve for those moments when needed.

    I’d prefer to move forward on the NGB and a long-ranged, stealthy UCAV rather than spending a lot of money re-engining and upgrading the B-1s. The B-1s are not survivable against a modern IADS without resorting to cruise missiles.

    It’s a shame NATF didn’t go anywhere. Carrier-based NATFs providing OCA for long-ranged stealthy bombers (B-2 and NGB) might be able to overcome the massive fighter numbers the Chinese can put in the air along with their S-300 SAM systems. F-35s and F/A-18s won’t have the same effect.

    I do think we should consider re-engining the B-52s though. They’re going to continue to soldier on for a long time and are better for the long-range, long-loiter, big warload job.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 3, 2009 8:11 pm

    Solomon said “wouldn’t a force proposed by Mike be only capable of handling brush wars?”

    What other kind is there anymore? COIN is the new conventional. Thats a stretch I admit but not by much. I would rather have a large unconventional military, able to handle the rare conventional conflict if need be, than a small battleship-only fleet that the irregulars can run rings around, unable to defend our merchant seamen, as we see off Somalia.

  9. Joe permalink
    December 3, 2009 7:43 pm


    I’m just a rookie at discussing this subject matter, but I do not think it makes sense to so heavily restrict your navy to fielding just V/STOL aircraft carriers if the funding does not dictate that. I agreed with the idea of change in light of the fact we’re facing relatively fixed naval budgets for the 2010s – at the present time anyway.

    Given that I endorse “change”, I see two routes to get it approved by the powers-that-be: Go with a smaller version of what we currently field or to a mix of what we have and introduce smaller versions to serve alongside.

    I do not think you’d get Congress and the Navy to give up angled-deck carriers altogether. B. Smitty spoke of the conventionally powered version of the Nimitz, or you might consider an American version of the forthcoming Royal Navy or proposed French carriers. Both would have lower upfront costs than a full-sized nuclear Ford.

    The other idea I see is one that’s been brought up elsewhere before, of allowing the scheduled RCOH times for upcoming carriers to be times of retirement and also introduction of (keeping with your idea for the moment) of modified LHA-6 platforms. “Modified” in that extra money be spent to absolutely guarantee they could launch planes other than the F-35B.

    That way, you could orient the Nimitzs/Fords to your major hotspots and your smaller carriers to the less risky theatres (define those at your own peril).

    But as I proposed once upon a time here, if you want to go with an all V/STOL-type naval airpower arm, build a modernized version of the B-1R concept, put it under the power of the navy (as the Air Force doesn’t want anything to do with it) and use that to replace the qty of bomb-on-target airpower that would be lost in the process. You would not always need them but they would be in reserve for those moments when needed.

    B. Smitty, I met your crack dealer and he said to tell you “hello”. And to pay your bill…no more credit.

  10. December 3, 2009 4:28 pm

    See this is the kind of thinking thats dangerous. Give someone a hint of an idea and then everyone wants to play admiral! Seriously though. The US Navy might be able to ramp down to the 10 carrier plan with no problem but supposedly the Chinese are about to launch a carrier bigger than the “whatever it is they bought”…if that’s so then sea control ships, converted amphibs, jeep carriers…however you name them will get ate up by one of those. I don’t think we can afford that type mauling. If anything, while saying that Navy only wants to fight big wars, wouldn’t a force proposed by Mike be only capable of handling brush wars?

  11. B.Smitty permalink
    December 3, 2009 4:17 pm

    Alex 2.0 said, “Smitty, CATOBAR-LPH; she already exists (well she does if the RN decide to put cats and traps on the QE class)

    Frankly I’m still a bit amazed that it took this long for them to go CATOBAR. Sure, putting steam cats on an electric boat would be no fun, and EMALS is still on shaky technical ground, but either of those is less risky, IMHO, than hitching your horse to a single, completely unproven STOVL aircraft (not to mention suffering with helo-based AEW).

    I would like to see a real analysis around ditching the LHAs in favor of a QE-sized CTOL carrier (if not actually using a modified QE class).

    Of course I’d also like to see equally improbable things like the Marines ditching the MV-22 for a marinized CH-47, cancelling the F-35B (if not the rest of the program), continuing production of the F-22 and F-16, actually funding the Next Gen Bomber, and building an armed, G.Hawk-sized, stealthy UAV with global range and multi-day endurance.

    Yes, the crack is good where I come from.

  12. December 3, 2009 3:18 pm

    Well, I held off. But, hey, just for fun..!
    With, oh, $6 Billion. We build (20) 600′ Airships (flying carriers)
    Each carries (10 X-47 UCAV).
    No catapult/ trapping needed, as these carriers fly at between 70-100 kts
    Top of the hull is covered with solar cells, giving the airship carrier unlimited range/endurance.
    No sonar sig at all, no wake.
    No worrys about mines, torpedos. (free up some escort surface vessels)
    Among other advantages not written here; this: can deploy UCAVs from deep within continent as well as ocean.

    (I just couldn’t resist, Mike. Things need to be said. New ideas need to be considered)

  13. - Alex 2.0 permalink
    December 3, 2009 3:11 pm

    Alternatively a Modern HMS Ocean type ship could be produced for no more than $500m

    Cavour is an alternative to gold, she cost around $2.5bn, too small to operate as a carrier, too small an EMF to operate as an amphib.

    Smitty, CATOBAR-LPH; she already exists (well she does if the RN decide to put cats and traps on the QE class)

  14. December 3, 2009 3:01 pm

    You’re comparing a Nimitz class carrier to a Mistral????? A Mistral isn’t as capable as an LHD-8 in its intended role! There is no way that it will be ANYWHERE as capable as a Nimitz in the force projection role. I luv ya guy but who spiked your coffee? One Nimitz class carrier is almost the equal of the entire French Navy. Push for a reduction in carriers IF you must. State that our capabilities are overkill but to state that these big deck amphibs can be turned into Sea Control Ships and replace a full deck carrier is misleading. As they say on Monday Night Countdown….C’mon Man!

  15. B.Smitty permalink
    December 3, 2009 1:18 pm

    Joe asked, “As a side question, how much carrier runway does the X-47B (supposedly) require to lift off?

    ~90m? :)

  16. Joe permalink
    December 3, 2009 1:07 pm

    As a side question, how much carrier runway does the X-47B (supposedly) require to lift off?

  17. B.Smitty permalink
    December 3, 2009 12:27 pm


    There is ONE option for future fixed wing airpower on STOVL decks in anything remotely like “near term” – the F-35B. It has not started flight testing (last time I checked). It uses a lot of brand-new, untried technology. Maybe it will deliver as promised, maybe not.

    Certainly we can speculate on STOVL UCAVs, reconstituting the AV-8B line, building an AEW V-22, or other options, but turning them into reality will take a LONG time and cost a lot of money. The fact of the matter is, none of these are programs of record (or even glimmers of programs).

    There is one U.S., carrier-capable fighter aircraft in production right now – the F/A-18E/F. There is one carrier-capable AEW system in production now – the E-2C/D. Neither of which will fly off of a STOVL deck.

    Betting the entire naval aviation farm on a single, unproven fighter design and mere speculative AEW and UCAV designs does not seem like a good approach to risk management. In 10-20 years you could end up with a bunch of helicopter carriers and no fixed wing naval airpower.

    OEF and OIF were both fought during the prime of the so-called “age of precision airpower”. Yet in each conflict, sortie numbers still mattered. The number of aimpoints struck still mattered.

    One bomb can often hit one target, but there are a lot of targets out there. Plus, the ISR contribution of a modern fighter is still extremely important, even if bombs aren’t dropped.

    Numbers still matter in the age of precision weapons.

    Mike said, “Now the unmanned vehicles give us less excuse not to deploy small carriers, because they can also be launched from surface ships.

    What can be launched from surface ships? Fire Scouts? Scan Eagles? How do they even remotely compare to the capability of an F/A-18 (or even X-47)?

  18. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 3, 2009 11:56 am

    Smitty, so what you are saying, because we don’t have fixed wing airpower on small or medium decks, we can’t? We have chosen to do this, because I think of false metrics which have no bearing in this age of precision airpower. Now the unmanned vehicles give us less excuse not to deploy small carriers, because they can also be launched from surface ships.

    Even before the precision age, we were using the old Essex’s as light carriers, so we could maintain a 15-19 carrier force. These were retired in the 70s because they were worn out, not because they weren’t useful. Before precision air we had light carriers, but now that the climate is ideal for smaller ships, we say “no thanks”. And wonder why we are shrinking and smaller less particular fleets continue to deploy effective small ships.

  19. B.Smitty permalink
    December 3, 2009 9:14 am

    Mike said, “If only 100,000 ton decks can effectively deploy naval airpower at sea, then the concept must be obsolete, because if you follow the numbers the Big Decks are gradually vanishing.

    Define “effectively”.

    With the America class LHA, you currently have one option for fixed wing aircraft – the AV-8B. It’s an option that is not even in production anymore. We have all them we will ever have. F-18s won’t fly off of an LHA. Neither will E-2C/Ds.

    At some point, maybe, the F-35B might become available (if it can ever start and finish flight testing, come in at a price that doesn’t break the bank, and prove sustainable on small decks. Lots of “ifs”.)

    So can an LHA provide a limited number of relatively short ranged fighter sorties? Yes.

    Can a similar number of LHAs replicate the sortie rates generated or aimpoints struck by the CVNs during OEF or OIF? Not a chance.

    Can they provide CRITICAL force multipliers like the EA-6B/EA-18G and E-2C/D? No.

    Are there any fixed wing STOVL UCAVs in development? No.

    Are there any fixed wing STOVL aircraft in production today? No.

    Personally, I’d love to see us investigate ditching the LHA in favor of a real conventional, CATOBAR carrier that can swing role as an LPH.

  20. December 3, 2009 8:37 am

    The problem is, how do you keep enough capability to handle the “big war” thsat might come about.

    The 600-ship navy was designed to fight World War III – it never did, but it was able to “dial down” to handle the Line of Death, Operations Urgent Fury and Preying Mantis, as wel as a host of smaller crises without breaking a sweat.

    The 1990s drawdown in naval force structure was a huge mistake, and one that will be very expensive to fix.

  21. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 3, 2009 7:31 am

    Smitty, I just don’t get it. We are told that planes are so much more capable now because of precision weapons (we have also see their effect in wartime, and how single flights of UAVs are mercilessly pounding the terrorists, no squadrons needed). Also that new jets like the Super Hornets are vastly easier to maintain than the older F-14s they replace, where they can perform more sorties as needed. But it is heresy to say buy fewer fighters, and deploy smaller airwings? This is maintaining tradition, not capability.

    If only 100,000 ton decks can effectively deploy naval airpower at sea, then the concept must be obsolete, because if you follow the numbers the Big Decks are gradually vanishing. But I don’t think this is the case.

    Marcase, I’m glad you brought up the Seeking and Merlin AEW, which makes me surmise that you could put the same type pod on a fighter jet that can fit on the helo. If a medium size carrier can carry the Super Hornet, it should also carry the Growler, and the Growler should be an easy upgrade to AEW,or an F-35 or Harrier AEW.

    As far as Tankers, during the initial Afghan conflict, the new SP’s tanked themselves. Not an ideal solution, but still a solution, and this wouldn’t be a requirement at all times, but we could make do.

    My point being, it is better to have a less capable class of ship, than an overall less capable fleet. whatever’s lacking can be made up by all the units of a combined fleet. As it is we are throwing all our expensive eggs in a handful of vulnerable, costly baskets. We are stretched thin everywhere, and the admirals say “tough”. But we can do better by spreading capability instead of concentrating power.

  22. B.Smitty permalink
    December 3, 2009 7:07 am

    Mike said, “So we find that building the same number of light carriers which ship-for-ship is as effective as large deck vessels, we have savings of $30 billion with which to do other things with.

    ??? We must have different definitions for the word “effective”.

    We may be in an age of “one bomb, one hit” but we are still in an age of “less bombs means less hits”. Numbers still matter, as I’ve tried to show using statistics from recent conflicts.

    Why not, instead, revive the idea of a conventional super carrier? Up front cost estimates for a Nimitz-sized conventional carrier ranged from 50%-70% of the price of a CVN, IIRC. (Lifetime costs are harder to determine)

    America class LHAs devote too much internal space to stowing Marines and their gear, IMHO. If we want a carrier, we should buy a carrier.

  23. Marcase permalink
    December 3, 2009 6:44 am

    There is, however, one major drawback when considering small/medium carriers which depend on VSTOL aircraft; there are currently no AEW and usefull air tanker variants available able to provide the same coverage that the E-2 Hawkeye, or the late KS-3 and KA-6 tankers could. Buddy-buddy tanking is possible, but VSTOL (F-35B and AV-8B) tankers are really not a viable option for obvious reasons.

    The Seaking AEW and projected Merlin AEW are options, but only for fleet surveillance and not for (hostile) overland AEW coverage – short legs, short range and vulnerable.

    Offshore E-3, KC-10 and RQ-4 Global Hawk support is an option, but that requires land bases in the vicinity, which may not be an option (either due to politics or pure location).

    Then there is ‘kill’ stowage. A large carrier carries more fuel, spares and ordnance for its airwing, allowing higher OPTEMPO during a life-fire crisis.

    Small and medium carriers do have their advantages, but also some drawbacks.


  1. Return of the Small Carriers « New Wars

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