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Carrier Alternative Weekly

December 24, 2009

USS Vicksburg (CG-69)

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 .
I’m amazed that no one in recent years has considered operating light fighters from fighter decks, other than India. Another potential candidate in years past was the Franco/British Jaguar (M) which also  was intended as a carrier capable jet. Likely, they have been sidelined by the superb performance of the Harrier V/STOL, but since the  increasing difficulties finding a vertol replacement in recent years, could the light fighters at sea make a comeback? Modern alternatives might include the Brazil/Italian AMX and the BAE Hawk 200, though the Gripen would be far more capable. The Rafale is already there, though a little pricey.

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? 


41 Comments leave one →
  1. B.Smitty permalink
    December 28, 2009 8:32 am


    How is it a “a simple enought affair for a modern enemy to track attack planes back”? Track with what? AEW/AWACS plus fighter CAPs should clear returning raid packages.

    I’m more worried about satellite detection and OTH radar. Hopefully we’re working on a black anti-sat system. OTH radars are big and fixed, so they can be taken out by cruise missile strikes.

  2. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 28, 2009 12:33 am


    ‘Fraid I’m pretty much with Mike when it comes to CVNs. They’re not that hard to find any more. They’re vulnerable to missiles & REALLY vulnerable to dumb/semi-smart bombs & it’s a simple enought affair for a modern enemy to track attack planes back & do a Battle of Midway on the CVN. Escorts are vulnerable to both torpedos & sea-skimming missiles & ASMs have more then enough range & can be purchased in sufficient volume to exhaust defensive missile yields. And oddly enough, American CVNs are amongst the least capable carriers in the world when it comes to defending themselves WITHOUT escorts. That just strikes me as odd, frankly.

    That said, I do agree it is possible to deploy effective ASW carriers. The excellent Japanese DDH Hyuga destroyer/helo carrier is designed specifically with this role in mind. It’s sort of a hot rod version of the old Jeep carriers from WWII. Hyuga has the capacity for up to 13 choppers, excellent electronics and, incidentally is quite capable of operating without escorts–Hyuga has 2×3 banks of 324 mm ASW torpedos & 16×4 SAM silos. AS defense is the only week point.

  3. B.Smitty permalink
    December 27, 2009 8:45 am

    Mike said, “Here are some things the Aircraft carrier cannot do, or at least as well as surface ships:
    1. Fight submarines-they are too vulnerable to risk, since the destroyers would spend more time protecting the carrier than the convoy.
    2. Fight other ships-The American carrier has no other peer carrier power to fight, so why waste them? The best defense against another carrier anyway is likely a submarine.
    3. Risk in shallow seas-The handful of giant carriers has no business in waters infested by mines and shallow water craft equipped with ship-killing missiles.

    1. Carriers can fight submarines, but we chose not to emphasize this role for them.
    2. Carriers most certainly can fight other ships, and they are far better at it than surface combatants.
    3. Fortunately you don’t need to risk them in shallow seas. Just send their business end in (aircraft), and keep the carrier at a safe distance.

  4. Joe permalink
    December 26, 2009 10:45 pm


    If Russia doesn’t get that $150+ oil sometime soon, who knows where Putin & Medvedev might end up. Maybe on the Kardashians??

    I agree about Russia. I don’t see them being a threat to our security unless someone over there with Parkinson’s gets put in charge of the missile launch buttons. I’m even crazy enough to think that we could be great allies with them…one day…but that a lot will have to happen for that day to arrive.

    They will always have nukes to some degree, if for no other reason to deter China from “visiting” Russia’s Siberian Hinterlands one of these cold days. Their navy, as Mike has linked to, is falling apart and it took umpteen weeks for them to move the forces in place to invade just a small part of a nation of 27,000 sq miles last year. Far cry from the Cold War imagery of tank divisions rolling over the West German plains, eh?

    I figure China will, one day, go the Star Trek/Borg route with Taiwan and attempt to make them realize resistence is futile and simply have them give in to economic assimilation. To invade (if they had the capability) and attack full-tilt would risk destroying the value of the prize they seek. They could undoubtedly win, but it’d be a question if they’re happier with the stuff that stands on Taiwan or the dirt it rests on – as their ‘prize’.

    Iran + leverage. True words you be spitting there. At this point it is going to be pretty hard to bomb knowledge out of existence. If you were going to bunker-buster the place to bits, the time for that would have been a few years ago. As they continue to rack up achievements in the overall program, what might a “limited air war” really accomplish?? Given the internal protests against the regime, I’d pray really hard that takes deep root & do all I could to foment it versus giving them a flag to rally round.

    China and the U.S. have a kind of M.A.D. for the 21st Century. China has the power to crash our economy and we have the power to crash theirs by denial of trading routes. We need them to soak up our debt and they need our rich market to keep their export-driven economy humming. And our (low) inflation rate is largely predicated on cheap crudola from the mainland. And the wheels on the bus go round and round…

    I’m sorry you had a downer of a Christmas, Graham. I am glad the kids you spoke of happened along and put the silver lining around the grey clouds you were ducking, though.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 26, 2009 8:32 pm

    Graham, concerning warship survivability: I don’t think overall any warship is particularly more survivable than another. It’s all a matter of timing, and you see USS Laffey taking on numerous Kamikazes and surviving, then HMS Hood a total loss after one shot in the right place. How did USS Enterprise survive Guadalcanal while her sisters went down one by one? I just think where a smaller warship has an advantage, more maneuverable and they are more numerous meaning more targets! I like smaller warships because they take advantage of new precision technology. I think a larger ship naturally brings ideas of force and massive salvos. This new era is about “one bomb, one hit”.

    I suppose I will have continued confidence in the UAVs until they start falling from the skies. I believe some of our fears of this new technology (as will all new technology) is just that, fearing the unknown and untried. But I see them as allowing us to continue to deploy airpower effectively in battle without the extreme costs of manned jets, which are currently bankrupting our air forces and naval air arms. Old planes are used until they fall apart, and newer planes bought in drastically fewer numbers. I see the UAVs and UCAVs returning sanity to aircraft procurement, and adequate numbers back to our force structures.

    Like you I have great respect for the TLAM submarines. I agree with the expense of Tomahawk and wish it could be cheaper. Considering its effectiveness and ease of deployment, I don’t think its price unreasonable as Colin Powell once concluded in the 1990s. They will probably get cheaper, if we can get our focus less on manned naval air to the development of newer missiles. I think it a shame we have no supersonic cruise missiles, and no anti-ship missiles other than Harpoon. Our strategy needs to catch up with the technology, but it takes time.

    Happy Holidays Graham! People don’t like to say that anymore, but its OK by me!

    Sorry about your troubles but glad everything worked out.

  6. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 26, 2009 8:02 pm

    I still think out best power projectors our the Seawolfs, modified Ohios & Virginias. I’d rather that they had a less expensive missile battery & would trade a little accuracy for cost & reloads, but the modified Ohios & Sewaolfs in particular are intriguing. They can self-defend. They’re stealthy. They have Spec-Op deployment ability (at least the four Ohios & the Jimmy Carter–ironic, yes?). That’s A LOT OF HAVOC. I’d much prefer a cheaper alternative to TLAMs, even if there was some performance cost & I’d operate them as a discrete unit–seriously, the four modified Ohios can deliver up to 408 SEALs & 616 TLAMs WITHOUT reloads.

    That’s a bad day if you’re on the other side. Jimmy Carter was built was a Spec-Ops boat & is pretty capable & would make a nice addition to this squadron.

    I’d just like to see cheaper missiles with mothership access for reloads. Maybe convert some other Ohios into rotating milch-cows. rotate one ship off to blue-water at a time say, and maintain readiness.

    It’s an idea, anyway, and I don’t think there are many hostile nations in the world that would want to be faced with the possibility of dealing with battleship-submarines that can deploy hundreds of SEALs & land-attack missiles with comparative impunity.

    Not for pirates, thought. ;)

    Happy Hollidays, Mike!

    Mine were basically crappy. But I was running out to a gas station today after I realized I’d gotten home from a miserable night with my mother & step-father & literally pulled into my lot on nothing. Station was closed. A couple kids pulled up while I was hiking (it was cold, rainy & soggy) & saw me with my gas can & they not only gave me a lift 3 miles down, they covered me to fill my bucket & then some. They insisted.

    Totally tangential: Anyone who says that kids today are totally self-absorbed is an ass. I’ll just have to repay the favor to someone when I have a chance. You watch your 6 & I’ll keep an eye out for you.

    Happy hollidays, Mike!

  7. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 26, 2009 7:42 pm

    BTW, Mike, I was off on a tangent, there:

    I agree with you regarding the vulnerability of CVNs as far as Sea Control is concerned, particularly with the proliferation of sophisticated D/E & AIP medium-range submarines. I’m still pretty anxious about the possibility of a WWII-sized AIP sub with the capability to shoot 533 mm Shkval or German Super-Cavitating torpedos or high-speed sea-skimming missiles. I’ve seen rudimentary reports that the Germans have developed undersea missiles with 850 kph undersea speed. That’s about the velocity of a commercial airliner. Even at 230-300 mph, a heavy torpedo slamming into the side of a super-carrier would barely need a warhead to sink it. And these weapons are generally designed for standard 533 mm mounts.

    At that speed, if you have any kind of creep ability, even a crude guidance package is plenty. A carrier can’t correct fast enough.

    And if you designed an AP type underwater missile that could travel at 200-500 mph with semi-crude guidance with good stealth, you could get a kill on a carrier with one shot. Kinetic energy would be bad enough but combine that with a thermal explosive & the ship would be dead.

  8. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 26, 2009 7:21 pm


    Battle of Midway. CVNs aren’t nearly as delicate as their escorts from torpedo attacks or low-flying missile. A Burke or a Tico is basically a one-shot kill from a Sunburn, Shipwreck, Sizzler or Brahmos. Super-cavitation torpedos are even more deadly. And all of these weapons can be launched from subs, low-cost corvettes, or land. And they’re not first-strike weapons. Exhaust the counter-measures with wave attacks from land or ship–long-range rocket barrages, cheap old Exocets, dummie missiles. Then hose them. And then take out the carrier. US carriers in particular are particularly weak on deck. You’d think we’d have learned this listen from our own (lucky) success at Midway. Or the catastrophe on USS Forrestal in 1968 when a loose Zuni Rocket hit John McCain’s fighter & set off an ammunition explosion that ended Forrestall’s war-fighting ability & killed more then 100 sailors & could have sank the ship.

    Don’t knock the potential for hackng our own UAVs in a more significant way, either. China produces almost 8 engineers for every US engineer. We bloody well subsidize foreign engineers at excellent US schools (not real smart, IMHO–not a fan of H-1B Visas here).

    My point is that at this point, rubes can hack into UAV video feeds with 26 dollar software from Russia (which does damned good software, btw).

    We’re complacent. And we rely too much on single-stroke strategies. We also tend to assume we retain a technological advantage which, frankly, we don’t anymore. And our HUMINT sucks. And we’re broke all-around. And, as you’ve pointed out many times, we try to do too much with the one-size-fits-noneplatforms which indidentally, are built more to fulfill parochial political needs then national defense. Just sayin’.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 26, 2009 2:52 pm

    Also, concerning Sea Control, lets talk about what a carrier cannot do, since fighting land forces is only possible if you have secured the sea first.

    The wars we have recently, where we’ve seen the continued running of our most expensive ships, the flattops, against enemy coastlines, is made possible only by the initial securing of the sea lanes. Arguably, this dominance goes back to the defeat of the German and Japanese Navy in World War 2, but certainly our security rests on the demise of the Soviet Navy at least by 1991. Here are some things the Aircraft carrier cannot do, or at least as well as surface ships:

    1. Fight submarines-they are too vulnerable to risk, since the destroyers would spend more time protecting the carrier than the convoy.
    2. Fight other ships-The American carrier has no other peer carrier power to fight, so why waste them? The best defense against another carrier anyway is likely a submarine.
    3. Risk in shallow seas-The handful of giant carriers has no business in waters infested by mines and shallow water craft equipped with ship-killing missiles.

    We can only conclude the continued use of the large deck fixed wing aircraft carrier is against land powers, but in a future sea control function they will be a liability. Likewise by the early 20th Century was the battleship only needed against other battleships or shore targets, while other ships became more vital. Recalling the giant ships of the Grand Fleet often credited with winning the war, by blockading the German High Seas Fleet, this did Britain little good. By 1917, with the destroyers tied down protecting the battlefleet, unable to chase the submarines destroying her Empire, she almost lost the war anyway.

    In the end, the immense operating expense sank the battleship, not the carrier, and the latter is increasingly falling into the same trap.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 26, 2009 1:56 pm

    Joe K said “I don’t see missile ships sailing to crisis zones to offload emergency supplies. I don’t see Tomahawks performing extended patrols over no-fly-zones to make sure they’re secure. I certainly don’t see how a missile ship could intercept a flight of attacking fighters on the opposite side of the country.”

    Again, you are talking about non-traditional missions for the Navy. You are justifying a $10 billion warships plus costly budget draining escorts and aircraft for disaster relief? Concerning fighters attacking other fighters and patrol missions, our shrinking number of planes on deck and their decreasing range, except on rare occasion are again duplicating Air Force missions. These can and should be done by light carriers if it is needed, but thanks to smarter missiles and UCAVs, in the near future you probably won’t even need light carriers.

    I would be the first to say that the giant carriers can do all the missions you pointed out better than any other warship, but since they are other, cheaper alternatives, why extend ourselves and blow our budget when it isn’t necessary. But fiscal reality will force the change.

    Graham-I see what you are saying about the countermeasures problem, but I don’t know where this has happened yet. If you have documentation I’d be glad to read it. This seems much like the fears over UAV hacking which doesn’t appear to hinder their effectiveness.

  11. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 26, 2009 12:48 pm


    A couple problems with smart weapons in general & TLAMs in particular–they can still be fooled & jammed by both high & low-tech adversaries. “One shot, one hit” is a bit a bit over-optomistic.

    The USN (and Army, for that matter), might be wise to look into semi-guided or even un-guided MLRS launches. This type of weapon system could be bolted onto any number of hull types, provide significant long-range land-attack capability & the kind of morale crushing carnage you get from battleship guns…with longer range. The Russians have had a lot of success with their TOR-1 “flamethrower” rocket systems: The Russian concept of a “flamethrower” is actually a little euphemistic, if such a thing is possible. These suckers fire rockets equipped with thermobaric warheads. Multiple long-range barrages of thermobaric MLRS rockets will seriously discourage most enemies. And you can afford & stock re-loads far more easily, cheaply & in greater numbers then you can with missiles. Just a thought.

  12. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 26, 2009 12:34 pm


    If it’s Russia we’re talking about, shouldn’t it be “caviar dreams & Stolys wishes”? Like the “pok-n-beans” & Thunderbird image, though. Now I’ve just got this picture in my head of Putin & Medvedev slumped outside a convenience store in the middle of winter eating potted meats & chugging 40s. ;)

    Russia, IMHO, just isn’t much of a threat. Putin would likely not mind a little border expansion but he’s basically a realist…and he’s got enough trouble-makers in the Caucusus to deal with anyway. Russia’s military philosophy has been geared toward Area Denial for a long time. It’s what they’re good at. They have some brilliant military designers but lack the means to maintain serious power projection.

    China, as you pointed out, is pretty hard to figure sometimes. Would they make a grab for Taiwan if the opportunity presented itself? Maybe. But China has some cranky neighbors to deal with–North Korea, Russia, India. As far as getting into a pissing contest with them, it’s worthwhile to note that China owns more then 20% of all US Treasury Bonds & has a massive capital surplus…and that total US debts (all countries) are greater then the total debt of, well, EVERY SINGLE COUNTRY IN THE WORLD COMBINED. I mean, we owe money to Mexico.

    We can’t even really threaten a country like Iran unless we committ to vaporizing it–they can shut down the Gulf of Hormuz quite easily if it becomes a gotterdamerung type scenario.. This of course would make Russia happy–they’d get that $150+ oil they need. And then some. The US gets almost a quarter of it’s oil from the Gulf, Europe two-thirds & Japan 90%.

    Frankly, I think the US needs to bite the bullet & shift from a Power Projection mentality to Sea Control & Coastal Control. Our SSN/SSGN Force gives us some significant power projection capability & I wouldn’t want to lose that, but the truth of the matter is that Power Projection is something we simply can no longer afford on a massive scale.

  13. Steve Petty permalink
    December 26, 2009 3:43 am

    While the Enterprise should be retired the 3 oldest Nimitz class carriers should be deployed as aviation ships in the MPF[F] this is the missing element in the MPF[F] because of the cost of development.The Nimitzs could fill this role with a small cadre crew and there operational crews trained aboard the active Nimitz class ships. This would allow life extension thru decreased operations while suppling a key element in the Navy’s strategy and help repay there original cost. The trimaran CVE is very intresting but with the supposed 50yr life of the CVN were is the need?

  14. B.Smitty permalink
    December 25, 2009 10:47 pm


    “OIF by the Numbers” has the number of munitions dropped by type,

    There are a lot of good stats on carrier airpower in OIF and OEF here,

    and here,

  15. Joe K. permalink
    December 25, 2009 9:57 pm


    I’m sorry, but to suggest that our missile ships do the same thing as carriers is such a fallacy and you still refuse to see it. I don’t see missile ships sailing to crisis zones to offload emergency supplies. I don’t see Tomahawks performing extended patrols over no-fly-zones to make sure they’re secure. I certainly don’t see how a missile ship could intercept a flight of attacking fighters on the opposite side of the country.

    The only reason ICBM missiles are a good deterrent against attack is because they have heavy warheads that could destroy cities…when it comes to large-scale conflicts. Cruise missile tech has been around for decades but it certainly hasn’t deterred against the smaller conflicts or incursions. And the fact that they’re one-hit wonders is all the more reason why they can’t supplant aircraft which can be refueled midair and be able to conduct a precision attack WITHOUT the use of missiles.

    You can’t control a country solely by being able to shoot ordnance over them. You need to have the visible presence to back up your control and not just using boots on the ground.

    Geez, you just won’t budge on that angle.

  16. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 25, 2009 2:28 pm


    Planeman has a thread at dealing with trimaran and catamaran aircraft carriers. Most of what is presented are his speculative designs, with both types. But post # 4 of that thread contains two links to previous UK and Russian designs along with Planeman’s own catamaran design.

    I would mention another fictional catamaran aircraft carrier that I’m aware of, but inclusion of it causes my attempted posts to fail (weird WordPress filter, I suspect).

  17. Joe permalink
    December 25, 2009 1:51 pm

    B. Smitty,

    Where did you find those stats? Do they have splits for other past & on-going conflicts?

  18. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 25, 2009 1:37 pm

    “Forefront” means they opened the campaign, preceding the carriers.

    After three hours of deliberation, President Bush decided to ditch the carefully orchestrated plans for the “shock and awe” initial attack in the hope of landing a killer blow with the first strike.
    The first volleys were aimed at an anonymous house in southern Baghdad where Saddam was thought to be holed up with his senior advisers. The missles were targetted to slam through the roof and walls – almost certainly “bomb proofed” – and penetrate deep inisde the complex in order to “decapitate” the Iraqi leadership.

    US Navy warships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea re-targetted Tomahawk cruise missiles and a squadron of F-117A stealth fighters were loaded with 900kg “bunker busters” designed to drill deep inside such shelters.

    The Tomahawks – costing $1.2 million each – were launched from US Navy vessels against at least two targets around the Iraqi capital Baghdad, a senior US officer said.

    “Some came from the Med, some came from the Red Sea and some came from the northern Arabian Gulf,” Lieutenant Commander Mike Brown said. Brown, spokesman for the navy’s northern Gulf battle group, said the missiles were aimed at “targets of opportunity,” which he described as those that had to be hit at a certain moment or they would no longer be feasible. He did not elaborate.

    Some of the missiles were fired before dawn from the cruiser USS Cowpens in the northern Gulf, “more than 10 at at least two targets,” Brown said. He said the total number of Tomahawks fired from the whole group was more than 40.

    Rear Admiral John Kelly told reporters on the USS Abraham Lincoln that four US cruisers and two submarines fired Tomahawks at Iraq today and Operation Iraqi Freedom was underway with operations continuing.

    “Of the missiles fired the great majority proceeded to target. One missile failed in the transition from launch to flight,” he said.

    Then the battleships carriers came in to support the land battle.

  19. B.Smitty permalink
    December 25, 2009 12:41 pm

    Mike said, “ And what vessel has been at the forefront of all our recent wars, also launching attacks against land bases, even opening up Operation Iraq Freedom?

    The TLAM ships.

    Through April 30th, 2003, of the 19,900 guided munitions expended in OIF, a mere 802 were TLAMs. Aircraft drop the rest.

  20. Joe permalink
    December 25, 2009 12:29 pm


    Good points about extension of “shelf life” for our naval ships. Major navies have always had a mix of old & new. We should evaluate each class of ships on the pros/cons of extending it rather than making a blanket dismissal of the concept. We’d no doubt have some “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” decisions if a fair/honest process were engaged in.

    Recently read on Strategy Page an article that stated an OHP frigate, to be retired and given to Pakistan, was first going to go through a $65M refurbishment, with the addition of more anti-submarine capabilities, and will be used in anti-piracy patrols off Somalia before being transferred.

    Sounds pretty much like a SLEP to me. In the spirit of “old & new”, and assuming the qty of OHPs are similarly “refurbishable”, why not keep them for our use? I don’t know…$700M for an LCS, $65M for a reworked OHP…kind of sells itself if you’re wanting to have a 313-ship navy anytime soon.

    Off the topic, Merry Christmas to everyone & here’s wishing us all a healthy, peaceful & prosperous 2010. Many thanks to Mike and the regulars here for making this a quality place to learn & share.

  21. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 25, 2009 6:21 am

    Tarl wrote-“The fact that lesser navies cannot deploy carriers does not demonstrate that carriers are less cost effective”

    Lesser nations? You mean like Britain, who invented the carrier, or Russia or China? Even America cannot build an adequate airwing anymore. We haven’t had a new-build naval fighter since the 1970s, and the arrival of the F-35 is uncertain.

    I also did mention the carrier could carry plenty of ordnance, but such was unnecessary in modern warfare (the same was said of the battleship in the 40s).Perhaps we need giant ammo stocks if we are supporting a land battle, but this is a secondary naval mission, close air support. It is far from justifying gutting other essential naval roles, for the likes of Saddam Hussein or land-locked and pre-industrial age Afghanistan.

    If you follow the numbers, you see this is happening anyway, with declining numbers of carriers and fighter gaps. And what vessel has been at the forefront of all our recent wars, also launching attacks against land bases, even opening up Operation Iraq Freedom?

    The TLAM ships.

  22. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 25, 2009 6:11 am

    Same to you Tangosix and to all the New Wars gang! It’s been a good year.

  23. December 25, 2009 12:25 am

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    Merry Christmas (and everyone else too).


  24. December 25, 2009 12:20 am

    Hello Chuck Hill,

    B.A.E Systems owns Saab (aerospace),General Motors owns Saab (automotive).


  25. Chuck Hill permalink
    December 25, 2009 12:03 am

    Anybody know if the sale of SAAB cars to China has any effect on SAAB aircraft?

  26. UltimaRatioRegis permalink
    December 24, 2009 9:54 pm

    Not sure Raymond is correct about the life extension issue with USN ships. The ships of the “600 ship” Navy (actually the high was 597, in 1987) were far from having been built all at the same time.

    The 3 battleships were obviously of WWII vintage, with substantial updates. The 14 CVs in 1987 ranged in age from Midway (CV42) and Coral Sea (CV43) built at the end of WWII, through the Forrestal-class “supercarriers”, to the new Nimitz-class Vinson (CV70), and TR (CV71).

    The destroyers ranged in age from the Charles F Adams-class built in the late 50s to the nearly new Spruances.

    The Spru-cans were retired at the halfway mark of their service lives in many cases, and had they been maintained and updated, could still be in service as modern surface combatants.

    The retirement of the Spruances, like the Virginias before them and the five early Ticonderogas afterward, was due to a terribly short-sighted and foolish decision to essentially “recapitalize”, only to find out that the replacements were too expensive and too experimental.

  27. B.Smitty permalink
    December 24, 2009 9:39 pm


    If we’re talking “blue sky” then let’s talk about an F-22N. At least that aircraft would have a chance against the hoards of Chinese fighters in a conflict over Taiwan.

    Sea Gripen only offers modest improvements in some areas over the Super Hornet, and is less capable in other areas.

  28. Joe permalink
    December 24, 2009 8:06 pm

    Of the four nations you listed on the carrier subject: Britain, India, Russia, and China – let’s visit them individually.

    Great Britain is slashing funding for their military (both in inflation-adjusted and real terms) so much that’s it to the point that if they want to procure a set of ball-point pens they’re going to have to cancel the paper order they were meant for use on.

    Middle-Kingdom wary India seems to turn everything into
    Chinese Algebra
    when it comes to their navy, so it’s little wonder that any aircraft carrier scenarios they find themselves in go awry.

    Concerned about Russia’s state of being? Check the WSJ’s listing of oil/nat gas prices and you have a pretty accurate picture. Being little more than a petro-state with a seriously decayed military infrastructure, they require the kind of free cash flow that $150+ oil & sky-high n/gas brings so that they can fund their caviar dreams and champagne wishes. Absent that it’s pork-n-beans & Thunderbird for them.

    China – a true wildcard. Will they or won’t they, per carrier development. Given their currency reserves, “fundage” isn’t their issue. If they have a carrier bone to scratch, it’s just a matter of acquiring enough technicians and stealing enough technical know-how to make it all come together.

    As to the battleships, my desire to evaluate their fitness for modern duty is well-documented. Call me a werewolf if you must. Whatever the outcome of what I proposed in that thread…bombs, missiles, and guns all have different strengths, weaknesses, and roles to play in battle. Given technology’s advancement in all 3 areas, I don’t think it prudent to just look at one area (and max it out) when forming a modern, well-balanced military machine.

  29. Tarl permalink
    December 24, 2009 7:17 pm

    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.

    Please. This is just ridiculous. If there is no anti-ship threat, then either the carrier or the TLAM-launcher can travel solitaire. If there is an anti-ship threat, then both the carrier and the TLAM-launcher will travel in a battlegroup.

    When the surface ship shoots 24, 32, or 60 TLAMs (bye bye, $120 million!), it is done and has to go home. Meanwhile, the carrier’s magazine is on the order of 4,000 bombs, and it can be replenished at sea more or less indefinitely. So, one carrier on station can deliver 67 to 167 times the number of PGMs one surface ship can deliver, and, of course, the carrier’s bombs are ~100 times cheaper than TLAMs.

    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.

    The fact that lesser navies cannot deploy carriers does not demonstrate that carriers are less cost effective than surface ships with TLAMs. These countries are willing to fight less cost-effectively (i.e. with TLAMs instead of bombs) because they have a far lesser requirement for overseas power projection than the US does. Indeed, they don’t have much capability to strike targets with TLAMs (or the foreign equivalent), either, so they are hardly great examples to support your case. If they needed – or wanted – to strike a lot of aimpoints, they’d need to have carriers, period.

  30. Heretic permalink
    December 24, 2009 3:54 pm


    Since we’re dealing in a blue sky sandbox here (of my own creation, admittedly), you first need to ask yourself … what does the F-18E/F offer or do that a Sea Gripen could not (or at least, not do as well). Just about the only things that I can think of would be twin engine versus single over water and possibly the G mission of EW fast attack on the F-18G. But the Sea Gripen, being based on an NG version which is designed to be a two-seater from the get go, will be capable of doing “nearly everything” a Super Hornet can … while not being as “draggy” about it (due to outwards pointing stores stations to mitigate a design flaw). I can see an argument that a single engine Sea Gripen wouldn’t have the electrical power generation (one engine versus two) of a Growler and therefore might be at some disadvantage as an EW attack platform … but the jamming pods on the Growler are in need of an update anyway, and what comes out of THAT effort to update aerial EW capability will ultimately (I’m thinking) be the deciding factor on that question. Furthermore, there’s the point, already being made for other AESA aircraft (*cough* F-35 *cough*) that the nose radar “can be used as a jammer” already … and if so, that’s something of a wash right there.

    A major reason why if you’re building CVEs for Sea Gripens rather than Super Hornets though is that you want to simplify and streamline onboard logistics as much as is practical … meaning use one “flavor” of plane rather than two in order to get the same job done. Why create two logistical tails when one will “suffice” for the task?

    Another reason is that Sea Gripens will natively have STOL performance built into the airframe and powerplant … something the Super Hornet most definitely does NOT have. That can then lead to flexible basing onboard ship and on land as I alluded to, which then yields more Bang For Buck to the user (ie. military service) in terms of life cycle costs, maintenance, training, manning, support, etc. etc. etc.


    The thing that I find so appealing about the thought of a twin deck CVE on a trimaran hull planform is that (as you point out), it gives you “redundant” flight decks. Furthermore, since the flight decks are aligned with the longtitudinal axis of the ship, you don’t have to decide (as with angled decks) whether to Wind Over Deck (WOD) direction is more important for takeoffs or landings, since you just steam directly into the wind and you’ve got WOD “aligned” for both flight decks. You also get “redundant” flight decks in the sense that if the catapult or arrestor system breaks down (for whatever reason) on one side, you can simply “swap” takeoffs and landings to the opposite flight deck and continue operations. In an emergency, in the event of mishap on one flight deck (crash or whatever), you’ve still got another flight deck capable of launching or landing other aircraft. Heck, in a pinch, you can recover two aircraft nearly simultaneously so long as you suspend launches … meaning that planes can “get down” safely even if one of the two flight lines is unavailable (which is something you *can’t* do on an angled deck CVN type ship).

    All of this gives an Airboss a LOT of flexibility in terms of what they can put up into the sky and how they can get the birds down again, and how well the ship handles battle damage or mishaps or failures, simply by virtue of that redundancy. That makes the whole ship a more resilient combat asset, since it wouldn’t be subject to “single point of failure” issues to the same extent as an angled deck CV(*) would be.

    And because trimarans tend to have longer, slenderer hulls … such a ship would probably(?) need less power for propulsion in order to achieve a specific speed, improving efficiency and allowing a greater share (by comparison) of the power generated onboard to be devoted to housekeeping and combat systems.

  31. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 24, 2009 1:31 pm

    Jed said-“Sea Gripen – oh yeah, cause thats gonna happen…”

    Always a plan B in case the F-35. Not an unreasonable notion if you read Eric Palmer’s blog.

    Heretic-I like the idea of a twin-deck CVE. Also increasing the chance one flight deck is still operational in case of combat damage.

    Forrest-Thanks! I blame my browser’s spell-checker again!

    Smitty-Most of those Navy Tomahawk studies were done in the 1990’s, when the concept was in its infancy. Also done by who? Carrier admirals! No surprise they dismissed it early.

  32. B.Smitty permalink
    December 24, 2009 1:22 pm


    If we’re going to put EMALS on a CVE, then why not just fly F-18s off of it?

  33. Heretic permalink
    December 24, 2009 12:22 pm

    Sea Gripen.

    {shocked silence}

    If Saab deliberately designs the Sea Gripen to be compatible with ski-jump launches and then has a relatively lightweight requirement as far as arrestors goes … I can actually forsee a Plan B for USMC Aviation if the F-35B (and F-35C?) doesn’t pan out.

    The 1250km nautical strike combat radius translates well into a 600nmi mission profile, while at the same time offering remarkably decent air-to-air profile performance with a different configuration of stores. And that’s with a flat deck launch, rather than a ski-jump launch assist to improve performance even further. There’s also no reason (that I can see at this stage) that the Sea Gripen couldn’t be configured for buddy tanking like the F-18 series, which would improve that strike range even further.

    The USMC essentially had to turn to the Harrier simply because the logistical footprint of setting up “portable” catapult/arrestor systems on land for navalized CTOL aircraft was simply too much to be workable. By contrast, Harriers had a very limited logistical footprint (in comparison) when setting up bases of operations in captured territory where there was no pre-existing infrastructure to support aviation operations. Unlike the USAF and USN, the USMC can’t just “assume” that there’s going to be concrete runways and airbases “everywhere” they need to go, so the logistics of setting up airfields to launch the all important airpower that makes MAGTF possible was a very different problem form the USMC.

    Sea Gripen, with its native STOL performance and relatively light logistical footprint in the field (intended to be serviced by a handful of conscripts and sheltered under roadway bridges in time of war) may make an outright excellent match with the needs of the USMC. The Harrier already “prefers” to have 300m stretches of road (or grass) for rolling vertical landings (which are better for avoiding FOD because of the positioning of the engine intakes) whenever possible, and the Marines have “proven” that it’s pretty darn easy to find 300m of “straight” road almost anywhere in the world (including between craters in bombed out airbases!). The Gripen has a requirement to make STOL within 800m x 17m … which isn’t *that* much greater than what Harriers are currently “required” to make use of operationally anyway. And you won’t be dealing with the same “hot deck” issues of vectored thrust that you have in the AV-8A/B or F-35B. Since Saab is going to be modifying the nose gear, undercarriage and wheels for the Sea Gripen anyway, wouldn’t it be to their advantage to design it to operate from austere, unimproved airstrips and grass strips (ie. not necessarily paved roadways) at the same time, so as to maximize the plane’s potential for sea-based and land-based operations?

    EMALS is already in development for the Ford class of CVNs. Furthermore, EMALS is specifically designed to be a “drop in place” replacement for any existing catapult/arrestor system already in the USN inventory. Now contemplate putting EMALS onto a CVE with ski-jump launching Sea Gripens flying USMC (and USN) colors.

    Now imagine a trimaran planform CVE … with two parallel flight decks port and starboard above the outrigger hulls, rather than the more typical angled deck. Each flight deck has arrestors and a single catapult, and ends in a ski-jump forward (which improves safety in bolter situations). The “island” is located centrally amidships with a 360 degree view of all flight operations on both flight lines. There is a large deck edge elevator to the hangar deck aft of the island behind the central hull. Two smaller deck edge elevators lie near the forward ski-jumps in the gaps between the center hull and the port/starboard outrigger hulls. The topside of the central hull is used for parking aircraft awaiting launch and could even have a helicopter landing spot. The trimaran planform would allow for a spacious hangar deck of substantial square footage (length and beam) which could accomodate fixed wing aircraft with room for “traffic” to circulate conveniently. Nuclear power is optional … although if the process to reform seawater and atmospheric CO2 into aviation fuel (which requires a lot of energy, but which a nuclear reactor has an abundance of) gets perfected, allowing aviation fuel to be “manufactured” onboard while underway … nuclear power may be a decided advantage and “cheaper” than the conventional option.

    Build a STOL/STOBAR fixed-wing asset to cover AEW and you’re almost done. Add a STOL/STOBAR fixed-wing cargo plane and you’ve got a complete revolution in carrier air-power.

    Yeah … Sea Gripen.

  34. B.Smitty permalink
    December 24, 2009 11:42 am

    Hmm, for some reason that link didn’t work. Here it is again.

  35. Jed permalink
    December 24, 2009 11:41 am

    On “battleships versus carriers” and “aviation versus ship building / maintenance budgets” – what about all the CG’s that have been sank as part of exercises ? and the othes laid up in Philadelphia ? Too costly to replace the first gen AEGIS and the twin arm Mk26 missile launchers ? But surely not – two big MK41 vls for all those Tomahawks, no SM2’s, just land attack. Stick 4 RAM launchers or SEARAM launchers and let the DDG51’s provide air defence.

    Sea Gripen – oh yeah, cause thats gonna happen, great aircraft, but almost as bad at loosing export competitions as the Rafale (I said ‘almost’) – but hey, I would love to see them flying from the new RN big decks, in place of ultra-expensive F35 !

  36. B.Smitty permalink
    December 24, 2009 11:40 am


    I think the Navy has plenty of perspective on the uses and limitations of Tomahawks. They are good for some things, and worthless for others. They can only ever be part of the solution.

    BTW, the Navy has already paid to navalize the BAE Hawk.

  37. Forrest permalink
    December 24, 2009 11:33 am

    Good post, as always, but it’s “ordnance,” not “ordinance.”


  1. Aircraft Carriers versus TLAM Warships « New Wars
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