Carrier Alternative Weekly
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.
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.
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.