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Carrier Alternative Weekly

December 3, 2009

Attack Carrier Mistral

Who says a warship must posses angled decks, catapults, or at least a ski-jump to deploy combat airpower? Here is proof positive of a fearsome attack chopper which recently flew off the deck of the French assault helicopter carrier Mistral currently visiting Russian waters. From the Ares blog:

The Mistral was deployed to St. Petersburg when the Ka-52 landing took place as part of a broader cross decking exercise. The event is significant, in part, because the Ka-52 isn’t even operational yet, French officials note.

Air Force Technology describes the Ka-52:

The Ka-50 Black Shark helicopter, developed by Kamov Helicopters JSC, carries the Nato codename Hokum A, Hokum B being the two-seat version, Ka-52. Ka-50 is also known as Werewolf. It is a high-performance combat helicopter with day and night capability, high survivability and fire power to defeat air targets and heavily armoured tanks armed with air defence weapons. It entered service in the Russian Army during 1995 and is manufactured at the Sazykin Aviation Company Progress based in Arseniev Maritime Territory, Russia.

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The Size Distraction

Airpower is an enabler of seapower, but it is not the final word. A Navy which spends a disproportionate amount of funds on the deployment of large decks make itself dependent on  uncertain allies with plentiful surface assets. Smaller warships are as important as ever, and also very powerful thanks to newer advanced weapons and sensors, and are historically the real backbone of a fleet.

So we are concerned to see America talking of a “1000 ship navy”, and Britain becoming more tied to an European Union naval force. In so doing they endanger their sovereignty and also their sea dominance, distracted as they are by deploying a Prestige Fleet filled with Big Decks. So, they miss the truly important purpose of a Navy by neglecting construction of adequate numbers of submarine and surface escorts, which are the primary avatars of seapower.

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Debunking Aircraft Carrier Myths

Writing in the UK Telegraph, here is Quentin Davies, British “Minister for Defence Equipment and Support” defending the need for large decks carriers for the Afghan:

In Afghanistan, we have local airfields, as we had in the Gulf. But you cannot count on them, or on having friendly neighboring countries willing to supply them. That is why we need carriers, so that wherever necessary we can take our airfields with us. Indeed, the carrier aircraft dominated the early period of the Afghanistan operations.

Then he immediately contradicts himself:

What about the idea that defence procurement should be exclusively directed at Afghanistan? It is the besetting temptation of defence ministers to focus so much on the current campaign that long-term preparedness is eroded.

For aircraft carriers, it is OK to focus on Afghanistan, but not for Army equipment? Arguably, the launching of fighter jets to bomb land targets is hardly a common requirement, yet here is the Minster justifying the world’s most expensive warships for use against the world’s poorest and least industrialized nations. The Americans claim the same need, concurrently after Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars.

Meanwhile there are so many alternatives, the least of which is the RN’s own war-winning V/STOL carriers, plus missiles, and UAVs from the sea. Keeping in mind that light carriers are not as capable as massive battle carriers, yet how much capability is required to fight terrorists from the 7th Century? Meanwhile, the troops are subsequently starved of necessary helos, replacement of antiquated small arms put off, all for the sake of last century warship construction, mainly for prestige or the world’s costliest jobs program.

The argument goes you still need large carriers to contend with peer threats like China or Russia (?), save that these nations are rapidly deploying anti-access missiles and submarines, which even the admirals acknowledged will force them further from the shores where short range aircraft are most needed.

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33 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe permalink
    December 7, 2009 2:34 pm

    m. ridgard,

    As to the foreign investment comment I made, Russia suffered a great deal of withdrawl in their economy in the 30 days following the onset of the war with Georgia. You can add to that the effects of the onslaught in the world banking arena and stock markets that soon followed in the fall of 2008.

    The general cycle of “better economy = more oil usage” isn’t a revelation to me. What isn’t perfectly know, however, is what valuation the dollar will play in all of this, given that is how oil is denominated. Last year’s oil bubble was driven by as much as anything else the commodity market plays centered around the plummeting value of the dollar. Look today at the contract price for gold – at its highest nominal levels in history (typically higher when there are currency and/or inflation worries). The dollar looked better 6 mos ago than it does today, so the best informed answer anyone can give per guessing what the price of oil might be in another 6 mos is to “stay tuned”.

    I’m sure the defense aficionados of this website are reaching for the Jack Daniels by now, so I will leave this part of the discussion alone for the time being.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 7, 2009 2:33 pm

    Michael, one more post. Just a paragraph at the end of an older article, but it gives further details how China might be handled at less cost to the West:

    https://newwars.wordpress.com/2006/01/04/the-coming-armageddon-at-sea/

    Distractions at home, they will have less time to concern themselves what we do.

  3. m.ridgard permalink
    December 7, 2009 2:09 pm

    Joe,
    Oil will not stay at todays prices for long,as soon as the economy starts to pick up (of which there are signs) prices will rise again and once again oil producing nations will be coining it.
    The same goes for lack of foreign investment,I would suggest is more down to the global recession then anything else.
    Big business will be back with a vengeance once it smells a profit to be made,Russia needs the investment and will make it very agreeable to foreign firms.
    Just as things have taken such a drastic downturn in the last 18 months they can just as easily go the other way.

  4. Joe permalink
    December 7, 2009 12:30 pm

    m. ridgard,

    No you didn’t. My bad, didn’t mean to take your words somewhere they didn’t go. However, I think by saying they are “modernizing” their forces – while technically correct – it does convey more than what they are actually capable of accomplishing these days.

    Consider quote #1: July 2008.

    and quote #2: November 2009.

    My intended point was that modernization…in light of the popping of the oil bubble, the rapid withdrawl of investment from Russia in light of their actions in Georgia, and their share of the world’s economic flu from last fall…is a vastly different creature than the Generals and Admirals were thinking it would look like in July 2008.

  5. m.ridgard permalink
    December 7, 2009 8:03 am

    Mike,
    Thanks for providing the above link.
    Whilst I am here,I have noticed a couple of sites today providing new on the headline article. Arsenyev Aviation,makers of the KA-50 and KA-52 to get large amount of funding to modernise facilities. See amongst others http://www.defpro.com

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 7, 2009 6:05 am

    Michael, I’m not sure if this is what you are looking for but I did post on the idea of using proxies against established conventional powers in a post:

    https://newwars.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/the-new-warfare-versus-russia/

    If I have time I will expound more on the subject later.

  7. m.ridgard permalink
    December 7, 2009 5:56 am

    Joe,
    Nowhere did I say that the current Russian forces are as formidable as they were in the Soviet era,what I did say is that they are now modernising there forces with extra money being provided for the first time in nearly two decades.
    With one exception and that is the Navy,they still seem to be relatively short of cash and I would suggest have lost a lot of the skills needed to build modern warships submarines in particular.
    The U.K. knows to her cost how the loss of such skills affects your shipbuilding capability.
    Due to the length of time between finishing our Trident submarines and commencing the Astute class we found ourselves in dire straits,even having to call for help from the Electric Boat Company to sort our programme out.
    In my opinion Russia is suffering from much the same problem.

    Mike Burleson,
    You did not clarify your remarks on arming proxy nations to carry out your wars for you,or was that just an oversight.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 6, 2009 7:34 pm

    It is a much weakened nation, though still very dangerous with multiple nukes and the ability to use, or misuse them. I would have to see the numbers, the 1980s GDP versus the 2000’s to change my mind on this. According to the CIA, its GDP is actually smaller than it was in 1989, NOT ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION-$2.6 trillion versus $2.2 trillion.

    https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rs.html

    Adjusted for inflation, the 1989 economy would be worth $4.5 trillion, or double what it is today. Compare this to $14 trillion US, or even Britain’s $2.2 trillion.

  9. Joe permalink
    December 6, 2009 4:08 pm

    m. ridgard,

    I don’t speak for Mike, but I really don’t think most impartial observers would agree that Russia can field anything resembling what the former Soviet Union did, militarily. True, they have the largest reserves of natural gas in the world and are at or near the top on conventional oil production, but the world has to essentially be going to *^#$ in a handbasket (oil > $150/bbl) for them to generate the free cash flow to invest in their military.

    Consider this link,, which was embedded in this New Wars posting from 11-28-09. The executive summary is that by 2015 Russia’s naval fleet could be largely retired due to age, and there is precious little to replace it with. They’ve added one 2,000 ton corvette in the past 10 yrs.

    Perhaps that is why they are investigating the French Mistral class vessels, which could put as many troops in Georgia in 40 minutes as the Black Sea Fleet took 26 hours to land during the countries’ August 2008 war, said the head of the Russian Navy, recently. Quite possibly, the first of many foreign-originated vessels to come for the Russian navy – if they have the rubles.

  10. m.ridgard permalink
    December 6, 2009 2:06 pm

    Mike Burleson,
    I would contest your statement that Russia is far poorer than in the days of the Soviet Union.
    The Soviet Union was a bancrupt system and only managed to fund huge armed forces by pouring most of its GDP into them,at the same time keeping the masses in relative poverty.
    There was no consumerism as there was nothing to consume even basic needs were in short supply,it was said of the large citys that if a queue formed then you joined it without even knowing what was on sale.
    Then again Soviet citizens enjoyed? guaranteed jobs for life (even it they were not needed) state subsidised housing and free health care and an education system as good as the wests..
    Now that Russia has opened itself up to the worlds market economy they are far better off,not withstanding that they also are affected by the global recession.
    Remember they have vast reserves of oil,gas and minerals which they are supplying in ever increasing volumes to western europe,and we are relying more and more on them.
    That they are not afraid to use this as a political weapon was shown last winter when they cut off supplies of gas the the Ukraine for alleged non payment.
    Unfortunatley the pipline which supplies the Ukraine also supplies one or two former eastern bloc countrys and they were affected at the same time. Basicaly they can turn off the tap any time they want.
    The money they are earning from these resources are going a long way to modernising the armed forces of Russia.
    Your suggestion to use proxy countrys to fight the wests wars especialy in the cases of Georgia and the Ukraine,was I hope not a serious one.
    How on earth do you think Russia would react to arming these countries on her borders with the latest in modern weaponry.
    Much the same I would imagine as did the USA in regards to Cuba, and I imagine that the growing Russian influence in Venezuela is giving some cause for concern in your corridors of power.
    Russia has always been physcotic in relation to being surrounded by enemies,your suggestion would only inflame this and could be very dangerous.

  11. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 6, 2009 1:21 pm

    Joe,

    Planeman states that it is still in the modeling status. Construction costs do not appear to be part of his efforts (as yet).

    He mostly creates depictions of military hardware from pictures and satellite imagery. Planeman has used Google Earth to find satellite pics of North Korean naval vessels and then renders them into reasonably accurate depictions of those vessels of the Hermit Kingdom. That is the sort of thing that he does the most.

    Now, with this effort he has turned to speculative aircraft carrier design that follows somewhat that hull format which we see in the Austal-designed LCS-2 USS Independence. The flight deck of this tri-hulled carrier would appear to be slightly larger than the rebuilding ex-Varyag (now in a Chinese shipyard). Yet the displacement would be one-half that of the 40,000 ton former Russian CV. This might be an approach towards building CVLs with large capacity hanger space and truly big flight decks. Although, with that lessened displacement there would be a far lesser payload of munitions and fuel carried onboard. Still, if an aircraft carrier of this sort were paired with a LHA or LHD in an amphibious operation then seriously intense air operations could be supported without bringing a CVN into green water littorals or shallow seas (like those found in SE Asia) where SSKs might be lurking. This type of vessel might have an equivalent air group size to that of the new 45,000 ton LHA-6 USS America while having one-half the displacement. Or, it might have a larger air group. It’s hard to estimate that sort of thing since this a novel concept in how to format an aircraft carrier.

  12. Joe permalink
    December 6, 2009 12:31 pm

    D.E. Riddick,

    Interesting concept. It makes me wonder that if it ever made it past mock-up stage, what kind of cost considerations would exist.

  13. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 6, 2009 11:26 am

    Here’s a truly alternative format aircraft carrier. It’s a tri-hulled carrier by Planeman. He also provides some information about other tri-hulled and catamaran carrier proposals.

    http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?t=170112

  14. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 5, 2009 5:26 pm

    Note that the Ka-52 utilizes French avionics. Sound familiar? Links follow.

    Attack Helicopter
    KA-52 Alligator

    http://www.enemyforces.net/helicopters/ka52.htm

    Kamov Ka-52 “Alligator”

    http://www.aviastar.org/helicopters_eng/ka-52.php

    Russia’s Ka-52 Alligator Scout-Attack Helicopters

    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/Russias-Ka-52-Alligator-Scout-Attack-Helicopters-05150/

    Kamov
    Ka-50 Black Shark
    Ka-52 Alligator
    ASCC codename: Hokum
    Attack Helicopter

    http://www.aerospaceweb.org/aircraft/helicopter-m/ka50/

  15. CBD permalink
    December 5, 2009 4:43 pm

    The other interesting thing is that the Ka-50 family (reportedly) have a pilot ejection system (blades are explosively detached and the pilot shoots up and out with a zero-zero ejection seat)…another great idea that we just never seem to have taken to.

    http://www.army-technology.com/projects/ka50/

    As far as coaxial rotor systems, the main drawback seems to be system complexity (and thus higher risk for some types of failure), although a lot of failure classes are also eliminated.

    http://www.gyrodynehelicopters.com/coaxial_benefits.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coaxial_rotors

    Dunno.

  16. Hudson permalink
    December 5, 2009 4:32 pm

    Thanks, Chuck. Right, the DASH system. So we know about it but don’t use it. Hmmm. Sort of like the cavitating torpedo the Russians designed and the Iranians produce, and I guess the Chinese have. They are short range, 5km, but would it not be worth having a 200mph torpedo in your arsenal as a pop-up weapon?

  17. Hudson permalink
    December 5, 2009 4:23 pm

    “I supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as necessary to defeat the terrorists, but I think the proxy strategy is a better one, where feasible.”

    As a New Yorker, working downtown on 9/ll and thereafter, I supported (meaning approved of; my taxes supported) going into Afghanistan because we knew that was where OBL had organized the attack, and prior attacks against us. He and al-Qaeda were a clear target. And we ran a brilliant campaign, with special ops on the ground allied with the ruthless Northern Alliance, and airpower, especially B-52s.

    Iraq was a different plate of hash altogether. You could make the moral argument against Saddam and, yes, everyone thought he had WMDs. But no one, I mean nobody nohow, ever produced one document, one email, demonstrating that Saddam ever intended to attack us directly, with whatever weapons, that I saw. For that reason, I was against the Iraq war. Bush, speaking of Saddam, said: “He said we were the enemy.” Well, that was all hat and no cattle–mere trash talk. The timing of the Iraq invasion was also curious: the by-election when the domestic agenda was flat or corrupted by Enron and the like. So play the trump card: C-in-C. The run-up to war looked curiously like wag the dog, to me.

    It might be that President Bush will come out on top in Iraq, if the government in power manages to get through the next election cycle. Each time the Iraqi people vote, their nation becomes stronger. Bush rolled the dice on the surge, and his gamble paid off–so far. Obama is making a calculated move in Afghanistan. No war whoop from him. Certainly, if we cannot get the Afghans to fight more effectively in more places, we will not be able to hang in there forever, in a war of attrition, of IEDs, ambushes, no big battles to win, and limited air effectiveness with limiting ROE.

    Dexter Filkins of the NY Times reported recently on our special ops with their beards choppering into remote areas, resupplying tribes fighting the Taliban on their own. So there are success stories. I find it difficult to keep track of the ebb and flow of this war from diverse sources. It’s hopeless, according to Jane; looking up, according to Joe. I think the winning side will have men wearing beards.

  18. Chuck Hill permalink
    December 5, 2009 4:22 pm

    I only know about radio Control Helicopters, there most of the trainers are configured like the Kamoz with contra rotating coax rotors, because they are easier to fly. The US has used this system in the past. In fact the drone antisubmarine helicopters (DASH) had this system, so it is not like they have invented something we had not thought of.

  19. Hudson permalink
    December 5, 2009 3:36 pm

    The Taliban describe our helos as “insects.” The Kamov pictured above somewhat resembles an insect, something like a locust. Curious about the twin rotor design, I looked up the KA series and quote below from Wiki. The Russian helo seems to be alone among combat helos with this feature. Why? Does it have faults not listed in the article? You can watch the bird performing loops on YouTube. Impressive demo.

    “Like other Kamov helicopters, it features Kamov’s characteristic contra-rotating co-axial rotor system, which removes the need for the entire tail-rotor assembly and improves the aircraft’s aerobatic qualities – it can perform loops, rolls, and “the funnel” (circle-strafing) where the aircraft maintains a line-of-sight to the target while flying circles of varying altitude, elevation, and airspeed around it. Using two rotors means that a smaller rotor with slower-moving rotor tips can be used compared to a single rotor design. Since the speed of the advancing rotor tip is a primary limitation to the maximum speed of a helicopter, this allows a faster maximum speed than helicopters such as the AH-64. The elimination of the tail rotor is a qualitative advantage because the torque-countering tail rotor can use up to 30% of engine power. Furthermore, the vulnerable boom and rear gearbox are fairly common causes of helicopter losses in combat; the Black Shark’s entire transmission presents a comparatively small target to ground fire. Kamov maintains that the co-axial drive assembly is built to survive hits from 23 mm ammunition like the other vital parts of the helicopter.[citation needed] The zero native torque also allows the aircraft to be fairly immune to wind strength and direction, and to have an unsurpassed turn rate in all travel speed envelopes.”

  20. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 5, 2009 6:23 am

    Excellent discussion guys!

    A lot of the criticism from those who fear the military veering off into a mindset of small unit, small boat COIN operations isn’t so much Next-War-Itis as much as “Last-War-Itis”. The idea which stems from the late Cold War is large, individually capable platforms will substitute for manpower and be more cost effective. Yet we are spending so much more for our smaller military force, than others will for larger and I think at least equally capable manpower centric force. It is a more expensive, less capable military, that concentrates strength rather than dispersing it where needed.

    The Raptors, the DDG-1000s, the Future Combat Systems which the military wants are the old way if thinking IMHO, “lets fight the Russians and the Chinese in traditional Industrial Warfare while we calling it 4th or 5th generation” or whatever.

    But the future is now, if you consider it the wars we are currently fighting. It is now less a war against powers but a conflict of ideals, and really, has been ongoing since Korea 1950. China might have been revolutionary then, but now she wants to be respectable. Russia, the old Soviet Union was never that revolutionary, just the Czars in a different guise with the old desires of Empire, and they are the same today only slightly smaller and much poorer.

    Stalin didn’t want to fight the West. The Russian military was just rotten and he knew it. So he tempted us into bankrupting ourselves in numerous Third World brush-fires wars where our new supercarriers and super-bombers were so much over-kill and of little use. He very nearly succeeded as we eagerly played he game, and we are trying to coax China into being the next enemy, by building up forces in Guam.

    But we should be playing their game against them, arming proxy neighbors who could fight our wars for us, like Japan (give them the Raptor!), S Korea, Georgia, Ukraine, ect. Let them contend with these poorer armies with first world weapons for a change while we fix our economy and restore our equipment stocks, which realistically we haven’t done since the 1960s!

    I supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as necessary to defeat the terrorists, but I think the proxy strategy is a better one, where feasible. If we must go into a Third World country, which should fight them with cost-effective weapons, which as we see with them against us, can stand up to a First World Power in a fair fight. If we must nearly break our economy just fighting these backwoods, brush-fire conflicts, what will we do against a war with a First Rank nation?

    The Great Powers, fighting amongst ourselves is just what these Third World, revolutionary powers (the Chavez’, Al Qaeda, Iran) want. The weaker we are, the stronger they become, even as their crash against our borders and flood our slums thanks to too-liberal immigration policies. The heavy equipment centric, platform centric force afar off, worried about who has the biggest battleship or the hottest fighter, or the best tank, is what they want. But a boots on the ground, small boats in your harbor, in their face strategy goes against their designs.

    These peer threats we are worried over have their own troubles and are not so much a threat if we stay out of their nearby national interests. They aren’t that revolutionary, but they often support real revolutionary movements in the Third World against us. This is the threat which has been creeping up on us, in Korea, in Vietnam, and now the Middle East. But we have been in denial until these so-called weaker powers learned to take advantage of globalization to export their terror, and send planes into our buildings or suicide bombers against mass rail systems.

    These are the threats today, which are more cost effective and effective than our wonder weapons and supercarriers and stealth bombers. They are the future while we dream of giant fleets and aerial armadas, thinking in terms of armored divisions while a single one of their thread-bare warriors becomes a weapon of mass destruction.

  21. CBD permalink
    December 4, 2009 11:45 pm

    M. Ridgard (sorry for the previous misspelling),

    Please don’t get me wrong re the so called ’special relationship’ which I personally think is nothing special and as a relationship is completely one sided,which is only to be expected considering that at the moment the USA is the most powerful nation on earth.

    I think it’s BS too, but it’s what is.

    Your ascertation that ‘Russia is not the USSR’ is confusing in that you are seemingly saying that whilst the USSR was our sworn enemy during the cold war,Russia has somehow rehabilitated itself and is now no threat to us.

    “So why in that case all the furore about France wishing to sell this vessel to Russia.
    Russia has not rehabilitated itself, it has crumbled. As Russia has done so often historically, it still seeks to dominate its borders. Some bad “childhood experiences” created and a few later events only served to reinforce an urgent national desire to control all of the surrounding nations (so that they would not threaten the Fatherland again). The inherently expansive nature of (Leninist) Marxism made it seem that Russia’s desire to rule the world came from that political theory but, in truth, that theory simply aligned with the extant national desire to have a lots of “living space” (hence the initial agreement to divide Poland into Russian and German liebensraum). It is entirely unsurprising that Russia still desires to dominate (although it has long since been in any condition to do so).

    They still have some of the best technology and a fearsome will to use it (ask Georgia). The trick is that many people confuse Russia for the USSR (and a desire to cleave to a near-totalitarian nationalist leadership as a desire to reunite under the flag of the USSR). The second trick is that, while the people are confused, they are still right about one thing: any weapons Russia has will be used to further the national agenda (ie, dominating any nation that might be a threat).

    Nice little tongue in cheek remark about how former ‘Great Enemies’ can become best allies,and including Great Britain in you list.

    “I take it your are refering to the war of independence,which may I remind you was partialy a result of Great Britain ridding your country of the French thereby allowing all your resources to be fixed on us.
    Given the political climate at the start of the Revolution (still fairly pro-Royal if anti-Parliament, only later turning entirely against GB), I was more referring to the War of 1812 and various other minor US-GB conflicts (which had a great deal of enmity behind them on both sides). I think that the Anglo-American partnership has done both sides a great deal of good in the past century. As you pointed out, the relationship as of late has not been the best (with the US dragging UK into a lot of perhaps unnecessary expeditions), but the fact that the US and UK did become great allies (beneficial in both directions) is a tremendous occurrence.

    Allow me to suggest also that in the case of Germany and Japan,one was to be used as a buffer zone against any communist expansion in europe and any war would have been fought on its territory the other was a much needed presence after the communist takeover of China.
    Honestly, the US always liked Germany and Japan more than Russia or China (look at pre-war (or pre-Hitler)) cooperation between those countries and the US. Japan was also first useful directly against the USSR (since the KMT wouldn’t be expelled from mainland China until about 1949). Both were buffers, in either case, against the Communist Threat.

    I stand by what I said re Quentin Davies remarks,they are not in the least contradictory only if you wish to make them seem so,unfortunately you do not seem to understand the current situation in the UK re funding the the fight for equipment that is going on.

    “If he is being far sighted I do not see that as a weakness,he is looking to our security in the future a future in which inevitably there will be conflicts.
    Being far sighted is not a weakness, but I’m concerned about what being far-sighted does to one’s ability to see what is immediately before him. I have the same problem with the American military establishment (it can just better afford to make the mistake at this time, see my immediately prior post).

    As far as the fights on-going in the UK, I understand that there has been a rather severe lack of availability of basic transport helicopters to UK forces, which has forced soldiers to travel on dangerous roads rather than conducting the much safer aerial assault. I also am given to understand that the armored vehicles first (and, often, still) deployed with UK forces were not adequate to the task of protecting the infantrymen. Air support and cheap local artillery is limited, forcing UK infantrymen to fire Javelin missiles at Taliban gun emplacements. I understand that this may be a limited view, but what I have read of the situation does not sound good.

    True, there will be future conflicts. Will Britain need to stand them alone? Will having 2 carriers make the difference? Who knows. But the issue is Mr. Davies’ apparent willingness to explore the future at the cost of the present.

    May I say that apart from the USA,the UK is by far the largest contributer of manpower and equipment in Afghanistan,your thinly veiled criticism that we are not doing enough is bad enough but to accuse Davies of ‘having a bloody disregard for the men fighting now’ is a completely unnacceptable remark,insulting in the extreme and if repeated in the UK press by anyone of note would create outrage and justifiably so.
    No criticism (thinly veiled or otherwise) was meant.

    The UK has done a tremendous amount of good with its armed forces (in Af/Pak and in Iraq). A tremendous amount of political opposition and limited availability means that the effort put forward is nothing less than gigantic.

    The criticism isn’t of UK military efforts at all, it is of the lack of support by the MoD for frontline British forces (who have not had the type homefront responsiveness they deserve). They’re fighting hard, but they shouldn’t have to fight hard just to get from point A to point B. The US could help (providing Apache spare parts wouldn’t hurt), but that aside, the MoD has a heavy burden elsewhere. Were it doing its job better there (and getting a few less sensational negative headlines back home), it would certainly be easier to get Parliament to loosen those purse strings when it came to the Type 45s and Carriers. The tough love that Parliament has been practicing has been a lot of sticks for few carrots (not a good thing), but it is managing things somewhat better than our Congress.

    The US DoD has saved itself by being very responsive to the loudest demands of US infantry forces (better cover/armor around gunners, smaller bombs, improved guns and body armor, improved bomb-resistant vehicles), which, although slow, has been effective in ensuring that many other, more expensive, efforts are continued (in spite of a lack of relevance to the on-going conflicts). This responsiveness to current concerns could be improved (again, see my previous post), but without it, the USS Ford would just be another slightly improved Nimitz and the LCS program would have been dead before LCS-1 was launched.

    The point is that the public (and, thus, MPs and Congressmen) want to see ‘our boys’ doing well. Any sign that ‘our boys’ things aren’t being given what they need tends to bring down fire from on high…and a pointed lack of future funding. Provide ‘our boys’ with wins and the Golden Goose will keep on laying eggs. Some adjustments could be made about where those golden eggs go, but a willful ignorance of the principle means that ‘our boys’ must struggle and they will be unprepared for the future (or simply unable to participate).

  22. CBD permalink
    December 4, 2009 10:47 pm

    Mike,
    It’s the problem of apparent wealth and limited demands.

    The financial costs of Af/Pak and Iraq, not to mention the many other operations on-going around the world should mean that all other military spending is halted (as it often was in previous wars, in wartime spending goes to the on-going war). Thanks to the Military-Industrial Complex (Ike was right), there has been a severe disengagement of the procurement cycle (on all fronts: Congress, Pentagon and Industry).

    The one set of gears (demand) no longer drives the rest of the machine (production).

    Economically speaking, financing and credit spending has allowed the military to ignore the real costs of their activities (or we certainly wouldn’t be using Javelin ATGMs to take out Taliban bunkers). Industry is happy to help, because it would suck to have the funding pulled out of your wonderful JSF program when the military decided that it was more practical to order 200 more F-15s, F-16s and F-18s to fill near-term needs. Sure, you got a couple of dozen jets it costs you nothing to produce, but since US industry spends so little on internal R&D, the only way they can progress with major projects is to have the Pentagon write a requirement for it (easy to do when the officer overseeing the program will be a VP at your company in 2 years). The Pentagon gets to do this because the spigot is wide open.

    If you were personally given $1bn of development funds to dispense, how would you prefer to spend it?
    A) on 1000 small programs that will each benefit the soldier in small, but very useful ways and on a few focused programs to definitively improve mid-level systems.
    OR
    B) would you rather roll it into developing a kick-ass new amphibious IFV that can fly across the water, but which you will barely use and cannot be used in most situations…if it works at all (EFV)?

    A normal, rational human being (including most high procurement officials, outside of their context) would chose A. But if you’re stuck in an environment where the funds were coming before you started and will be going through long after you’ve left the program, the idea of personal responsibility and rational use of funds seems to evaporate into B.

    The pressures of Total War are a good motivating, focusing factor. That’s why new designs were so readily developed in WWI and WWII, there was pressure of resources and if your program wasn’t bearing fruit inside of a couple of months it was dead and you were placed in command of a small landing boat in the Pacific. We can simulate that pressure for only so long in an organization that hardly needs to acknowledge the existence of two major military efforts when preparing the latest powerpoint presentation.

    The historic benefit of wartime is urgency.

    Everything else, funding, time, manpower, even raw materials, is limited. You don’t get to develop 6 prototypes. You’re poor, you’re stretched and everything is working against you. If the technology isn’t ready, you tell the engineer who’s excited about the fantastic whatchamacallit to work on it in his free time and give you something you can work with today.

    Yes, modern technology is more complex–but that doesn’t get you out of not realizing that your fabulous new VTOL (V22) and STOVL(F35) aircraft blow furnace-blast temperatures onto a deck made to resist the cool downdraft of a helicopter.

    Taking 5-10 years to solve the “new” problem is taking 25 years too long to figure out that a solution was needed. This is a problem that needed a solution before the program managers signed off on the lift concept (else we might have just used canceled the thing before it absorbed billions).

    Oddly, this has worked quite well recently, with a very high-tech project. Remember Land Warrior? It had 10 iterations in 25 years and was canceled having yielded nothing of use (it was trying to do work to produce a system ready in 5 years using technology from 15 years ago). Now, components (based on now-technology, not tech from long ago) are being properly field tested and pushed through iterative improvements. Why? Because the engineers didn’t want to have spilled their seed on the earth (if you’ll excuse the metaphor) and put together a package of what worked, threw away what didn’t and replaced what was really needed with COTS tech that was at hand.

    FCS seems on course to do the same thing. Why the concern with a “revolution in war fighting” when all we need is a revolution in artillery cannon range, an upgraded shell handling system and an automated means of laying fire? Why throw away the Bradley when incremental improvements (and the occasional testing of an alternate hull chassis) will yield just as much utility? Because nobody needs to care.

    The Virginia class wouldn’t be continued if costs stayed above $2bn. Lo and behold, we’re under $2bn and it takes less time to produce a ship just that much better than the Flt I vessels.

    Get them to care and give them less to do more in less time and you might actually get something you need.

    Until then, we can’t expect much. Arbitrary cost control measures just mean arbitrary cost control avoidance measures. Offering a program that asks for $5bn to do X over 4 years $2bn to do X in 3 years gets somebody to think about what is really needed to accomplish X. Make it a fixed-price contract, find a smart engineer and pay him well to work for the government to attack every flaw in the planning of X.

    I think that’s enough of a rant for now…

  23. Joe permalink
    December 4, 2009 7:29 pm

    Smaller carriers make tremendous sense for GB. After all, the biggest deployment of their navy in recent times was to fight in the Falklands War. Wouldn’t it make more sense to be able to fight another such style/level campaign rather than prepare for one that GB wouldn’t choose to engage in by itself (sea battle with China or Russia)?

    My basic mission statement for the RN would be to build smaller carriers that can deploy the amount of airpower you can afford to build/buy in the first place so that growing the fleet around the carriers becomes a reality…versus having it appear that you must gut the fleet in order to afford the carriers.

    I know Mike might chime in that that stmt also somewhat describes our naval situation. He’s right to a point, but as I said in another thread, I think we could make changes that wouldn’t necessitate fielding HMS Ocean/Mistral-equivalent V/STOL ships in order to rebalance our fleet. But something needs to happen.

  24. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 4, 2009 5:18 pm

    CBD “Mr. Davies uses the perspective of the ‘next war’ to argue against not just arming for the current war, but in order to justify losing men now to avoid the loss of another war in the future (whose exact nature is entirely unknown).”

    I always wondered what if we had used this thinking of looking over our shoulder during the world wars, and back in America’s civil war. I know we must be mindful of future threats at all times, but to think of reducing or delaying vital equipment for the Tommies and the Billy Yanks in their most desperate hour would have been unthinkable at those times. Usually equipment utilized in war is quite adequate in peace, and brings about concurrent revolutions in warfare, recalling the tank and the jet fighter were all born in wartime for the most part.

  25. m.ridgard permalink
    December 4, 2009 1:24 pm

    CBD,
    Please don’t get me wrong re the so called ‘special relationship’ which I personally think is nothing special and as a relationship is completely one sided,which is only to be expected considering that at the moment the USA is the most powerfull nation on earth.
    Your ascertation that ‘Russia is not the USSR’ is confusing in that you are seemingly saying that whilst the USSR was our sworn enemy during the cold war,Russia has somehow rehabilitated itself and is now no threat to us.
    So why in that case all the furore about France wishing to sell this vessel to Russia.
    Nice little tongue in cheek remark about how former ‘Great Enemies’ can become best allies,and including Great Britain in you list.
    I take it your are refering to the war of independence,which may I remind you was partialy a result of Great Britain ridding your country of the French thereby allowing all your resources to be fixed on us.
    Allow me to suggest also that in the case of Germany and Japan,one was to be used as a buffer zone against any communist expansion in europe and any war would have been fought on its territory the other was a much needed presence after the communist takeover of China.
    I stand by what I said re Quentin Davies remarks,they are not in the least contradictory only if you wish to make them seem so,unfortunately you do not seem to understand the current situation in the UK re funding the the fight for equipment that is going on.
    If he is being far sighted I do not see that as a weakness,he is looking to our security in the future a future in which inevitably there will be conflicts.
    May I say that apart from the USA,the UK is by far the largest contributer of manpower and equipment in Afghanistan,your thinly veiled criticism that we are not doing enough is bad enough but to accuse Davies of ‘having a bloody disregard for the men fighting now’ is a completely unnacceptable remark,insulting in the extreme and if repeated in the UK press by anyone of note would create outrage and justifiably so.

  26. CBD permalink
    December 4, 2009 10:03 am

    M. Rigard,
    I don’t know about the idea that Britain would lose its position in the ‘special relationship,’ but the rest of the issue with France is easy enough to disentangle.

    France didn’t support the invasion of Iraq for the same reasons as Russia: they were both illegally selling weapons to Hussein in violation of the embargo. If nobody invaded, there would be no revelation of their complicity with that regime. It was easier to criticize them as ‘cowards’ then to sour relations with those nations by making their violation of the arms embargo public.

    France was welcomed into NATO because it’s one of the major countries involved (even if unofficially for so long), the violation of an arms embargo in order to reap a quiet profit for domestic arms manufacturers is something that many NATO member nations can (quietly) appreciate…and is not an issue worthy of crippling a combined EU/NATO force.

    France has annoyed many by being willing to make a buck selling to its own once-feared enemy (the USSR). But Russia is not the USSR and, as you pointed out, former great enemies of the US can become its best allies (Japan, Germany, Great Britain).

    In the international community, political considerations almost always override matters of personal conscience. This example of France (and Franco-Russian relations) is an excellent example of how two essentially European nations with a long history of alternating enmity and alliance can readily switch between those modes. As Reddick so eloquently put it just above, “bonds rekindled and other matters thoughtfully (thoughtlessly) forgotten.”

    France and Russia, historically, have been the two most aggressively expansionist nations when it comes to European territory (putting aside the relative historical blip of German unification and expansionism that dominated the concerns of the very late 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries).

    As far as the Quentin Davies quote goes, it is an apparent contradiction as he points to the needs of the war in Afghanistan to simultaneously argue for one demand (which is weak and in the distant future) and against another (which is strong and urgent).

    Mr. Davies uses the perspective of the ‘next war’ to argue against not just arming for the current war, but in order to justify losing men now to avoid the loss of another war in the future (whose exact nature is entirely unknown).

    The future need of hugely expensive carriers is probable, the current need for Britain to boost funding for (comparatively cheap) helicopters, vehicles and improved infantry weapons is definite. The former is generally respectable, but the later must be respected.

    Not exactly a self-contradictory set of statements, but his argument, properly parsed, reveals a bloody disregard for the men fighting now.

  27. m.ridgard permalink
    December 4, 2009 4:36 am

    It amazes me how opinions change in such short timespans.
    During the the Iraq war the french were vilified by certain participants as cowards for not backing the allied forces,only a few years elapsed before they were being courted by the same people and welcomed back into the fold of the NATO alliance.
    Not so long ago an article appeared in the media to the effect that the USA could no longer trust the UK in defence matters due to the military cuts being carried out,and that France was taking the U.K.s place in the ‘special relationship’.
    Now it appears that France has blotted her copy book in the same circles by wanting to sell military equipment to an ex foe,this of course is an unheard of practice in western armament manufacturers and governments.
    Makes one wonder how such countrys as Germany and Japan got hold of all the western military hardware they acquired after world war two,or perhaps political considerations override matters of conscience.
    Also your remark re Quentin Davies contradicting himself doesn’t read right, I see no contradiction at all in his statement.
    He says quite plainly that whilst we have bases in Afghanistan to prosecute this war,it won’t always be so and that is why we need carriers.
    What am I missing.

  28. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 3, 2009 11:40 pm

    I guess that the Russians have forgotten about: the Battle of Austerlitz; the Battle of Borodino; the firing of Moscow while Napoleon’s army occupied the city; and the French introduction of the armored monitor to warfare during the Anglo-French Crimean campaign against Russia.

    And I suppose that the French have forgotten about who invaded Poland from the east while Hitler’s forces Blitzkrieged into the that country from the south, west, and north. France went to war with Germany over the invasion of Poland in 1939. But, not with the Soviet Union.

    Yeah, bonds rekindled and other matters thoughtfully (thoughtlessly) forgotten.

  29. CBD permalink
    December 3, 2009 11:06 pm

    Also, there are significant historical Franco-Russian ties…not surprising that post-Cold War those bonds are being rekindled.

  30. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 3, 2009 10:19 pm

    CBD,

    Yeah, I read the same items and wondered about that. But, I didn’t want to seem like Chicken Little and start screaming about how the sky is falling. However, I posted a report earlier in the week in which the touch & go landings of three different types of Russian Kamov helos had occurred aboard FS Mistral in the Baltic (Gulf of Finland, maybe). Thus, perhaps it is an appropriate moment to scream… …at the French for what they seem to be blind to!

    Oh, wait! The (not-so-blind) French have opposed the entry into NATO of Ukraine and Georgia. I guess making Francs (Euros) tops any concerns regarding aggression in eastern Europe and the Caucasus region. The French have no problem with having potential NATO allies overrun with systems that they provide to a paranoid, aggressive state apparently committed to re-conquering its presently free neighbors.

    So, I suppose the sale of the Mistral design will be OK… :-/

  31. CBD permalink
    December 3, 2009 9:35 pm

    Reddick,
    The other scary thing is that the Ka-52’s predecessor (Ka-50-2) was equipped with a full modern avionics suite by IAI in order to do a joint bid for the Turkish helicopter competition. Although the Ka-52 was already in development when the Ka-50-2 was built and tested, I wonder how much the Kamov techs were able to learn about the Israeli-made optics and systems when they were integrated for the Turkish bid?

    Not to sound paranoid, but the recent blatant statements about Russian intentions to observe the capabilities of (steal) Israeli UAV tech might indicate less than honest intentions for the Ka-50-2 prototypes post-competition. The first Ka-52 flight testing was going on in the same time period.

  32. December 3, 2009 9:13 pm

    Hello,

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Writing in the UK Telegraph, here is Quentin Davies, British “Minister for Defence Equipment and Support” defending the need for large decks carriers for the Afghan:

    “In Afghanistan, we have local airfields, as we had in the Gulf. But you cannot count on them, or on having friendly neighboring countries willing to supply them. That is why we need carriers, so that wherever necessary we can take our airfields with us. Indeed, the carrier aircraft dominated the early period of the Afghanistan operations.”

    Then he immediately contradicts himself:

    “What about the idea that defence procurement should be exclusively directed at Afghanistan? It is the besetting temptation of defence ministers to focus so much on the current campaign that long-term preparedness is eroded.”

    For aircraft carriers, it is OK to focus on Afghanistan, but not for Army equipment?”

    Mister Davies is not contradicting himself,he is displaying a sound understanding of the problems associated with deploying expeditionary air power.

    Since the Second World War,the United Kingdom has probably been involved in more conflicts than any other nation.
    Air power has been used in one way or another in all of those conflicts.
    Most of these were long term low intensity operations such as the Mau Mau uprising,the Malayan Emergency,The Canal Zone,Aden or current operations in Afghanistan.
    Such conflicts require a very small number of daily sorties to be sustained for a long time (The Royal Air Force flies only 6 fast jet sorties a day in Afghanistan for example).
    There is no need for an aircraft carrier to generate so few sorties,usually a land based squadron is adequate for such operations.
    Although a carrier can be used if circumstances make it efficient to do so.
    However,on 7 occasions since 1945,the United Kingdom has been involved in large scale air combat operations.
    These were in Korea 1950,Suez 1956,Falklands 1982,Kuwait 1990,Kosovo 1999,Afghanistan 2001 and Iraq 2003.
    Some maps:

    Korea:

    Suez:

    Falklands:

    Kuwait:

    Kosovo:

    Afghanistan (U.S. bases):

    Iraq:

    Britain spends most of it’s combat aircraft budget on fast jets which cannot operate from aircraft carriers.
    Yet these land based aircraft did not fly any combat sorties in 3 out of the 7 major air wars the United Kingdom has taken part in since 1945 (Korea,Falklands and Afghanistan).
    Royal Navy aircraft carriers took part in all 7 of these major conflicts (though not always as aircraft carriers as we shall see).

    Indeed the Royal air force has not deployed more than 15% of it’s land based tactical aircraft to any conflict in the last 64 years.
    In stark contrast the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm sent at least 85% of it’s Sea Harrier fleet South with the task force during the Falklands war of 1982.

    When British aircraft carriers operated alongside land based aircraft of the Royal Air Force in the Suez conflict of 1956,the Fleet Air Arm generated double the sortie rates of their land based counterparts.
    Indeed in all 4 of the major air wars to which land based aircraft of the Royal Air Force have been deployed since 1945,they have generated significantly lower sortie rates than their (British and American)carrier based counterparts .

    However,in 1978 the Royal Navy retired it’s last “full size” aircraft carrier and began to operate Invincible class “harrier carriers”.
    These ships have taken part in 5 major campaigns:

    In one,the Falklands,they provided the only tactical air power available and were successful;

    In Kosovo,Her Majesty’s Ship (H.M.S.) Invincible played only a minor part in the air war,flying a small number of combat air patrols despite her ideal location in the Adriatic.
    This was largely due to her air wing of Sea Harriers which had limited range,endurance and bombing capability as well as being few in number.
    In stark contrast the of the American aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt which put in a sterling performance,flying more than double the sortie rate of the Royal Air Force’s land based bombers;

    In Kuwait 1990,Afghanistan 2001 and Iraq 2003,the Invincible class carriers operated in the commando carrier (air assault) role or command ship role.
    Again the limitations of the “harrier carrier” were highlighted by the excellent performance of larger conventional American “super-carriers” in all three of these conflicts.

    In summary,in 7 of the 7 major air wars which the United Kingdom has been involved in since 1945,aircraft carriers have been the optimum (and often only) means of deploying combat air power.
    Yet in 4 of the 5 conflicts in which “harrier carriers” took part,they were unsuited to the job of an aircraft carrier and hence were used for other tasks.

    The obvious conclusion is that the United Kingdom needs large conventional aircraft carriers as “harrier carriers” are often not up to the tasks required of them,although they are preferable to having no carrier at all.

    Incidently the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers will cost about one third as much as the Gerald Ford class.
    Their annualised whole lifecycle cost is likely to be about £100 Million per ship per year out of a Royal Navy budget of around £7,000 Million per year.
    They are a long way from being “the world’s most expensive warships”!

    tangosix.

  33. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 3, 2009 8:26 pm

    Mike,

    The Kamov Ka-52 is termed the Alligator (Аллигатор). I think that says more about its intended use than the NATO designation Hokum B. Very serious news indeed if some of these attack helos are ever mated to a Mistral-derived LHD naval platform in Russian service.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ka-52

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