Carrier Alternative Weekly
Scratch 2 Flattops in QDR
Whew! Big news. Taking a deep breath. Here we go, from DoD Buzz:
Word on Capitol Hill is that the Quadrennial Defense Review should result in the demise of two Navy carrier groups and the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. On top of that, the Joint Strike Fighter program is likely to lose a so-far uncertain number of planes and the Air Force looks to lose two air wings.
Folks on the Hill are watching the carrier cuts particularly closely. They were willing to accept the temporary loss of one carrier but two groups may just be too much for lawmakers to swallow though it would conveniently answer the hot debate about whether the Navy faces a fighter gap.
“Even if they cut two carrier strike groups (which will be an uphill battle for DOD), they still face a significant USN fighter gap,” said a congressional aide following this. “The Navy seems to recognize this, but everything we’ve heard thus far from OSD seems to indicate that they’d rather try funny math then address a clear gap.”
I’d say retiring 2 carriers would go along way toward alleviating the stretched thin naval air force. Concerning the fighter gap, see the next post. This has been a long time coming and the cuts aren’t over with. This is why we call for a carrier alternatives, since even with 9, 10, or 11 flattops in service, during wartime this would be drastically reduced, if history is any judge. We recall the horrible losses of ships and men in the Pacific campaign when oftentimes there was only a single carrier in the Pacific in 1942. The only way to assure you don’t have losses is not to fight, but we don’t think the ideal conditions of the last century, where few rival fleets have dared challenge the might of the US Navy will continue indefinitely. It was over 100 years from Trafalgar to Jutland, so we might as well prepare now for the inevitable.
I support a 5 carrier fleet, given the amazing capabilities of modern warplanes, as well as long range missiles which now provide surface ships and submarines a long range strike role independent of naval air. Likewise, unmanned drones are becoming increasingly capable, and are now being tried from naval platforms, which will enhance the strike abilities of non-aviation ships. I do understand that no vessel can currently do sorties and close air support like large decks, but this isn’t a cost efficient way to run a Navy, given the extremely poor countries they are used against, like Afghanistan.
Earlier we posted on “Benefits from Halving the Carrier Fleet“:
The Navy should think of their ten multi-purpose amphibious carriers as light carriers, which can easily support naval operations in the manner described above with Harrier V/STOL jets, but at less cost. It was in 1943 that the first of the Independence class CVL’s entered operations to support the larger ships until adequate numbers of the new Essex class entered service. Thinking of the LHA/LHD assault ships in this manner as enablers of the bigger flattops, would then give us a 15 carrier force, something which the Navy hasn’t been able to do for a while, focused as they are on, all big decks, and only big decks for decades.
Four Carrier Fleet on the Way
Blogging on all things aviation related, Eric L Palmer looks at the numbers and sees dire times ahead for the US Carrier Fleet:
The completely unproven F-35C; is a very big gamble. UCAS-N is also a big question mark…Looking at the total number of Super Hornet squadrons we have today–assuming 4 fighter squadrons per carrier–shows that the Navy might be able to populate 5 carriers worth at best. It might even slip to 4.
We gave the following enormously blunt statement a special place:
There is no justification for a country to maintain and build big-deck aircraft carriers if it has so little to fly off of them.
Amen! As the original mothership, a platform is only as good as the weapons is carriers, and naval air force has been shrinking for decades. Realistically, the Super Hornet is not a “new” plane so much as a major upgrade of the proven F/A-18 Hornet from the 1970s. Still, it is a pretty good plane, good enough thanks to new precision weaponry that we can get by with fewer of them, as the Navy is going out of its way to prove to us. This seems good enough reason for the 4-5 flattop fleet mentioned in the article, or even the constriction of more numerous light carriers in their place.
Also concerning fighters, here is something we wrote in a July post:
An interesting phenomena in recent decades has been the dramatic increase in aircraft carrier size, while the number of warplanes needed on her spacious decks have actually declined. With the advent of new precision bombs in modern warfare, widespread use at sea not starting until the 1990’s, naval aircraft are more capable than ever. With one plane (or UAV) having the ability to destroy a target once required of huge airwings and multiple sorties, it only stands to reason we have entered a revolution in carrier power, which a few big decks with sizable numbers of strike bombers fail to adequately take advantage of. Yet the Navy still insists our shrinking number of 100,000 ton flattops with their 90 warplanes are the only way to deploy airpower at sea!
China “Sinks” US Carrier
The piece, “How The United States Lost the Naval War of 2015,” by Naval War College professor Cmdr. James Kraska, is not uplifting. In it, the Chinese sink the GW with one of their super death-ray re-targetable carrier-killing ballistic missiles; deny it; score a propaganda victory after rescuing some survivors; and use the whole thing to consolidate their status as the new rulers of the world Pacific. The impotent Navy does nothing, and suddenly it, the U.S. and the world realize that America’s power has evaporated.
Blogger Phil Ewing is dubious of this possibility:
(Apparently, in Kraska’s future, the Navy itself has forgotten about the ship-killing missiles, and 7th Fleet strike groups are no longer escorted by Aegis warships that could, at very least, produce American sailors who watched a missile plunge down from space and destroy the carrier.)
Yours truly writes military fiction too and with a happier ending. With respect to naval prophet Hector C Bywater, here is The Next Great Pacific War.
Hard versus Soft Power
Christopher Albon at the USNI blog pleads with the US Navy leadership to find its proper place in General McChrystal’s Afghan strategy, beyond its platform centric mindset:
The Navy can play a significant role in McChrystal’s strategy. Every year, thousands of sailors deploy on humanitarian, development, and disaster relief operations around the world. Sailors have repaired schools in the Pacific, organized health clinics in South America, and delivered disaster aid in the Caribbean. These operations are outside traditional military education and have required developing a new set of skills, notably the ability to plan and work side by side with different services, agencies, governments, and NGO partners. The missions have given the Navy hard won experience adapting military resources to humanitarian, development, and disaster relief challenges. This is particularly true of short term, high impact programs, the type of military involvement in development envisioned by Secretary of Defense Gates. The Navy could have precisely the type of soft-power experience McChrystal’s Afghanistan strategy requires.
The main obstacle to a major Navy role in Afghanistan is not material, but cultural. The Navy’s leadership is dominated by line officers. This perpetuates an institutional culture valuing warships and warplanes. However, the enemy has neither fleet or coastline. All the carrier strike groups in the world will not find victory in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Here is my reply within the comments:
The idea that the Navy might have other more urgent roles than deploying naval air seems beyond the grasp of the present culture, but it was not always so. Not since Operation Market Time in Vietnam has there been a dire need for cooperation with the land forces, but somehow we seem in a desperate hurry to pick a fight with China.
Lets not rush it. Fight and win our present conflicts. These little wars have always provided sailors with vital warfighting skills as well as America her future naval leaders for tomorrow’s major sea battles. This we have known from the Barbary’s Wars onward, as some skills can’t be taught from video games and textbooks alone.