Carrier Alternative Weekly
The Carrier Deception
What if there was a way to build up carrier numbers today, without drastically increasing the shipbuilding budget or retiring vast sums of other essential navy ships prematurely? I don’t mean just deploying the 15 of the Cold War, but dozens, scores, all you need and more. What if I tell you we have these vessels already in service? First some history.
The carrier advocates use the same faulty metrics for the deployment of only a handful of large deck aircraft carriers, used by the battleship admirals pre-1940, that their ships were more cost effective in laying down ordnance on a target. In part, they were right (which is why you still hear howls of “bring back the battleship”) that the 16 inch guns of a dreadnought could place down a massive amount of firepower on a target quickly, often with more accuracy than carrier air.
For example, the first American fast battleship, USS North Carolina in 1940 carried 911 tons of shell, the bulk of which it could expend in less than an hour. An Essex class carrier of the same period carried only 425 tons of ammunition, divided among bombs, torpedoes, and shells for self-defense. For Essex to deliver all of her small stocks of weapons, it would take days, burning much fuel and risking precious pilots in the process.
In the end, the carrier reined, because it was more effective and practical. The 100 planes of the CV could patrol and control hundreds of thousands of square miles of sea compared to the range of the battleship’s cannon, on average 20 miles. Most important, it could sink the world’s most powerful warships, as it dramatically proved on numerous occasions.
Today, the large deck has a new rival which might be equally effective, without the giant cost it takes to build, deploy, and arm a carrier force. Today the metrics which rule in the minds of the Navy is that a 100,000 ton carrier with 70 planes can launch the new smart bomb (one bomb, one hit) more cost effective than a $1 million Tomahawk land attack missile (TLAM) launched from a single surface warship. While for the carrier to send a single fighter against a single target, you deploy an entire fleet, highly visible and up to one tenth of your entire Navy to place one bomb on one target. For the TLAM warship to perform the same function of placing one weapon on one target you just need one ship, plus this ship carries many such weapons.
Therefore, even though the cruise missile is individually more costly, here is where the battleship versus the carrier ordinance comes into play. The TLAM is more cost effective because it is less harder to deploy than naval airpower from the sea. Much of this is obvious since all nations, particularly Britain, India, China, and Russia which have attempted to deploy even one large deck aircraft carrier have faced enormous technical and funding issues. Even the supreme practitioner of the art, the US Navy struggles to keep 10-11 in service, or build adequate numbers of planes for its spacious decks.
So we contend that the TLAM is the best weapon to take advantage of the new precision warfare of one bomb or missile, assuring one hit. This doesn’t just balance the cost effectiveness of the two platforms either, but completely blows the carrier out of competition. Currently the USN has in service 130 TLAM ships–80 cruisers/destroyers and 50 submarines–positioned around the world, dramatically revealed recently with attacks on terrorist targets on Yemen by TLAM ships. Far from being as efficient as a legacy manned warplane, they don’t need to be, just effective. Meanwhile, advances in technology are constantly upgrading the cruise missile until it is as versatile, still without the monumental expense of deploying naval air at sea.
We have the equivalent of 130 carrier groups deployed today, something the carrier admirals only dream of in their deepest fantasies. This would be the same as deploying some 130 light carriers, each armed with precision weapons, around the globe. As we often argue there is no difference in the effectiveness (notice we didn’t say “difference in firepower”) of a PGM armed light carrier and a PGM armed supercarrier. Because of smart bombs, the latter becomes so much overkill and unnecessary.
We should keep a few of our giant decks around, to support the occasional land battle, but this has always been a secondary role for seapower, which the giant and expensive battleships were ushered into in the last World War, after it became obvious cheaper lighter weapons were more effective and cost effective in the long run. For this we argue that the Navy is heavily skewed toward the high end conventional side of warfare, still shrinking and stretched thin when there is no need. Because of a traditional mindset toward the deployment of airpower from the sea, it has little understanding of the power and potential of the force multiplying Tomahawk cruise missile..
Enter the Sea Gripen
Here is one of the best naval air stories we have heard in a while, marrying the proven light-weight and decent priced Gripen fighter from Sweden (gotta love the Swedes!), with carrier-launch ability. The story is from Defense Studies, which they procured from Janes:
Prior to receiving the RfI Saab had completed detailed design pre-studies for the Sea Gripen in response to earlier interest from Brazil and others. In fact, designs for a navalised Gripen date back to the 1980s in Sweden. For Saab the Indian requirement is particularly important because of its potential links with Brazil’s F-X2 fighter competition. The Sea Gripen would be part of the long-term industrial development package for India and Brazil, should either country select the Gripen NG. The Indian RfI also makes a specific request that India’s chosen aircraft should be exportable.Saab’s Sea Gripen project leader is former Swedish Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Peter Nilsson, now vice-president of operational capabilities for the Gripen. “You have the Rafale, Super Hornet, even – some day – the JSF [Joint Strike Fighter], but no affordable option for nations that want independent seapower. Gripen has a built-in carrier capability that was part of the original design consideration. It is made for precision landings on a short strip. The aerodynamics, handling and landing qualities are all there. You don’t have to mess with it,” he told Jane’s .
Mistral to Russia? No way says Congress
Members of the US House of Representatives are waking to the threat to Russia’s neighbors concerning the impending sale of a French assault carrier to our former rival there. Here is story from AFP:
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has introduced a non-binding resolution urging President Barack Obama to press Paris to cancel the transaction.
“France and other member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union should decline to sell major weapons systems or offensive military equipment to the Russian Federation,” the measure says.
Ros-Lehtinen’s resolution underlines that the sale, estimated at 600-750 million dollars, would be the first time a NATO nation has provided “such advanced technology to Russia” and will likely upset Moscow’s neighbors.
Beating the Dead Horse
The Navy wants to get more life out of old ships. Raymond Pritchett as usual, asks the pertinent questions, like what’s the use?
When you build all your ships at once, like we did with the 600-ship fleet in the 80s, they will retire all at once…Now we want to extend the life of ships, and that won’t be easy (may actually turn out to be a huge, expensive crap shoot)…
All of these dollars thrown into life extension are readiness dollars. How many billions will go towards just 5 more years?
And here is the money quote:
The Navy spends more on aircraft than they do ships. The hard question is whether or not the Navy needs to be spending a higher percentage of the total Navy budget on ships, and if so, where else in the budget is money being spent that can be shifted towards shipbuilding?
The Navy, building ships. What a unique out of the box idea! And here I thought it was just about building platforms to carry jets, helicopters, ect. Big finish:
The perfect example of the problem – the USS Enterprise (CVN 65). They are still pouring millions into the ship to get her fixed for just 1-2 more deployments. The total cost for getting the ships in shape for just 1-2 more deployments is already $617 million. Can we please be more responsible with taxpayer money than what has been demonstrated with the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) at a time our Navy is about to contract at a considerable pace?