Aircraft Carrier Transformations Pt 2
Best of the Best
Looking at the three carrier navies of Britain, America, and India, we can devise what is the best and worst platform for deploying manned naval airpower, if it is still relevant in the era of guided missiles and combat drones.
- America builds very large hulls but cannot afford enough planes to fully complement them.
- The number of planes is less relevant seeing the power of precision weapons and low maintenance naval strike planes, so logically the tonnage of the carrier hulls should decrease not increase!
- Britain builds extremely large and costly ski-jump carriers fitted only for V/STOL planes. The lack of CATOBAR means she loses the enhanced capabilities of catapult planes like extra range and payload, and negates the primary benefits of V/STOL to operate from a smaller, less cost prohibitive platform.
- India will build a 50,000 ton “indigenous aircraft carrier” with CATOBAR and aircraft wings not too different from the larger, more expensive Anglo-American ships.
For the cost of a single $10 billion Ford class aircraft carrier, up to three 50,000 ton catapult equipped flattops could be purchased, if you start at a price of $3 billion or even two for $4.5 billion each. Their airwing would only be slightly smaller, 30 warplanes than ships we currently deploy at twice the size. This is a negligible figure if PGMs armed aircraft in modern warfare, as Strategypage.com tells us:
The success of smart bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan has also made it clear that fewer aircraft will be needed in the future.
American carriers have reduced the number of planes deployed on the Nimitz and her sisters, but still insist on only large decks. Yet this reduction in the number of aircraft is negligible considering the availability of modern naval aircraft like the excellent F/A-18 and its superior successor the Super Hornet. According to the Federation of American Scientists:
Reliability and ease of maintenance were emphasized in its design, and F/A-18s have consistently flown three times more hours without failure than other Navy tactical aircraft, while requiring half the maintenance time.
And Wikipedia notes:
Some early jet fighters required 50 man-hours of work by a ground crew for every hour the aircraft was in the air; later models substantially reduced this to allow faster turn-around times and more sorties in a day. Some modern military aircraft only require 10 man-hours of work per hour of flight time, and others are even more efficient.
Both PGMs and enhanced aircraft maintainability are recent phenomenas of the end of the Cold War which the Navy fails to grasp the potential. They have already taken advantage of these factors to purchase fewer planes, but have failed to conduct an equal transformation in the type of ships they build. Because of reluctance to match hulls with new capability, we will continue to see reductions in the number of large hulls, with these very exquisite ships carrying far fewer aircraft complements than their potential.
In other words, the Navy is forcing obsolescence on large decks by ignoring cost saving, power enhancing new technology. This apparent bias against light carriers stems from the erroneous idea that small decks is synonymous with “less capable”. The CVL is not less capable as we see, but a logical response to modern advancements in technology. Even more logical is the growing acknowledgment that in the precision age fewer aircraft can perform more missions than ever before.