Carrier Alternative Weekly
The Sky’s the Limit, or Maybe Higher
The cost of new Ford Class nuclear supercarriers has jumped to nearly $12 billion. Story from the Peter Frost at the Daily Press:
The Navy’s 2011 proposed shipbuilding budget, released Monday, also shows that the estimated cost to build the next-generation aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford, increased $685 million — or 6.3 percent — over a one-year period. The Newport News-built carrier, which was christened in late 2008 and is due to be complete in 2015, now is estimated to cost $11.53 billion, compared with a $10.85 billion estimate in the Navy’s fiscal 2010 budget.
More than half the cost escalation, or about $350 million, was under a line item labeled “Plan Costs,” according to budget documents.Nearly a third of the cost increase came from three new technologies: an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, a dual-band radar system and new aircraft recovery equipment, according to budget documents.
Note the technologies I highlighted are cosmetic changes to equipment already in existence, nothing revolutionary or ground breaking, though probably useful if they ever work right. The expense doesn’t seem to justify making the large deck carrier more exquisite and pricing it beyond the limits of affordability.
Finally, the supercarrier hull has become more important in the minds of the admirals than the weapons its transports, it’s aircraft, the only purpose for its existence. As absurd as this may sound, they may soon have to reduce the number of airwings currently carried just to afford the rising prices of ever larger decks. Oh wait…
Is “Shrinking Gap” an Oxymoron?
Secretary Gates says the USN Fighter gap isn’t a large as it was supposed to be. From Colin Clark at DoD Buzz:
The much-debated carrier fighter gap stretches about 100 planes wide in 2018. That is what Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the House Armed Services Committee today. That is less than half of the Navy’s estimate, given to Congress last year.
The Navy has pretty much stuck with a figure of 243 aircraft or, as some lawmakers have it, 48 planes a year. OSD’s old PAE shop performed an analysis last year that concluded there was in fact no fighter gap, if you took into account capabilities beyond those planes based only on US carriers, but that study was never publicly released.
The navy knows how to juggle some figures, eh? Some, like Rep. Todd Akin, (R-Mo.), aren’t buying it:
“The only real option is to buy more airplanes, and the only Navy fighter currently in production is the F/A-18 Super Hornet. If we are going to buy anything, we should do so in a way that is most responsible for taxpayers. In this case, a multi-year procurement could save hundreds of millions of dollars, but the DoD seems to have their head in the sand.”
One way to solve the problem, is make the carrier smaller.
The following comes from Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress:
You won’t read anything in the QDR about how “it would be politically inconvenient to permanently reduce the size of the carrier fleet because it would cost jobs in someone’s district” but that’s very much among the reasons for maintaining a large carrier fleet.
A Case for Light Carriers?
The nuclear carrier USS Carl Vinson is departing from the Island of Haiti after its mission of mercy there. Scoop Deck has the details:
Scoop Deck asked Rear Adm. Joseph Mulloy, who gave the Navy’s budget brief Monday at the Pentagon, about the cost implications of the Haiti mission to the Navy’s operations and maintenance account. He said the Pentagon’s latest figures showed the Navy’s “burn rate” for Haiti was about $3 million per day, although there were no estimates yet for a total cost because the response is ongoing. Mulloy also said the cost of the response was expected to shift as high-price, big-ticket assets like Carl Vinson and the Aegis warships retire, leaving behind the Nassau and Bataan amphibious ready groups and the panoply of Coast Guard and Military Sealift Command ships that will likely be needed off Haiti for several weeks more.
Nassau and Bataan are those handy Marine “Harrier Carriers” which provide troop transport as well as their on air defense. The beauty of light carriers is they are very useful ships for all types of emergencies: war and peace, disaster relief or combat, without busting the defense budget.
Small Carriers for Sea Control
Solomon at the Snafu! blog reminds us of the Zumwalt Plan from the 1970s to build light carriers that almost paid off:
If you ask any proponent of the 300 ship Navy they’ll tell you that those ships are needed for sea control. Problem is this…the designer of the concept, Admiral Zumwalt…called for the use of aircraft and light carriers to control the seas.
The admiral also called for many smaller escorts, like the Patrol Frigate, missile hydrofoils, and surface effect ships to work alongside the carriers, but the blogger makes a good case. My proposal would be to rename the DDG-1000 Zumwalt stealth destroyer and place this worthy title on a renewed Sea Control Ship, since the great former CNO was about building the Navy not shrinking it. The DDG could be named after someone in Congress, something else which does very little, yet is grossly expensive!
Chinese Sea Denier’s
Though all the talk is over the impending rise of a PLAN carrier-based airpower, Shashank Joshi at India’s National Interest insists the focus should be on the Mainland’s submarine buildup:
A recent article in International Security, ‘Undersea Dragons’, argued that “there is little evidence that China will endeavour to field carrier battle groups [and] preliminary indications suggest that…submarines are emerging as the centrepiece of an evolving Chinese quest to control the East Asian littoral.” Since any American defence of Taiwan would pivot on the US Seventh Fleet, this focus on ‘sea denial’ or ‘anti-access’ is unsurprising—though there are vociferous debates within the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). In 2002, China purchased 8 Russian Kilo class submarines, supposedly as quiet as their Los Angeles class American counterparts, bringing their total up to a dozen. The authors conclude that ”PLAN writings leave little doubt that destruction of US aircraft carrier battle groups is the focal point of doctrinal development”…
The writer also warns against building ships exclusively for power projection, as their utility against non-naval powers can be deceptive:
When NATO forces deployed carriers for operations against Serbia in 1999, or Britain used its shrinking carrier fleet against Afghanistan and Iraq, those targets were virtually defenseless states lacking a competent navy and air force, and without the requisite national capacity to hit back in other ways. This ‘uncontested’ expeditionary capacity is far from useless, but there is no reason to suppose that the scenarios envisioned by India’s maritime doctrine would be so kind to admirals.
Neither should it be the focus of an entire naval strategy, but should be balanced with adequate sea control forces.