Carrier Alternative Weekly
Giant Empty Decks
The already greatly shrunken carrier airwing will soon go to sea even smaller, according to the Navy. Here is Chris Cavas at Defense News:
Each U.S. Navy strike fighter squadron will lose some of its 10 or 12 aircraft between deployments – one of several details emerging about the service’s plans to ease an upcoming shortage of strike fighters.
The so-called fighter gap is coming as older F/A-18 A through D-model Hornet aircraft reach the end of their operational lives, not enough new E and F Strike Fighters are built to replace them and production of the later F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) lags…
Navy Hornet squadrons already have been reduced to 10 aircraft per squadron. Super Hornet squadrons flying E and F models generally have 12 aircraft each.
Very impressive 100,000 ton ships, with 5000+ crewmen, and the ability to load up to 90 warplanes maybe more, going to sea far below strength. Where is the logic in that? This is the admirals fault for not planning ahead, and taking into account smaller, even stable budgets. Neither have they taken advantage of new technology, which in the past few decades would have lessened their dependence on large decks.
The tide of history and excessive costs is increasingly against the supercarrier, yet they are still in denial.
You Ain’t Got Not Planes, I Ain’t Got No Carrier
India has the opposite problem than the US Navy. they have the planes but not the ships, yet, according to Indian Express:
The lethal Russian-made MiG-29K maritime fighter planes, which will be based on Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, were formally inducted by Defence Minister A K Antony on Friday, further strengthening the Indian Navy’s air arm.
“With induction of MiG-29Ks, coupled with the future inductions of aircraft carriers, our Navy’s capability will see a quantum jump,” he said during a ceremony here.
The MiG-29Ks are planned to be deployed on under- construction Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov which is likely to be inducted in the Navy by 2012 and an air defence ship being built at Kochi defence shipyard by 2014.
Maybe the two navies can get together and solve their carrier woes. Or is that Britain I hear calling?
Speaking of Empty Decks, here is Eric L Palmer proposing to buy Super Hornet Block IIFs for the USMC:
This would also help fill the deck of big-deck carriers, there-by making the Navy’s big deck carriers appear less like an empty parking lot by the 2020s.
Carriers for COIN?
While most of our wars since the end of the Cold War have been low tech, counter-insurgencies, Britain is seeking to become a first-rank naval power with the production of American style aircraft carriers. Andrew Rhys Thompson for ISN Security Watch posts some questions:
While in Britain the high upfront cost as well as the projected life-cycle expenses of the carriers have led to some public debate and even discussions in the government, among policy analysts and academics the discourse has centered around the issue of how utilitarian the carriers would be in low-intensity conflicts or for countering asymmetric threats.
“The question arises: Should Britain continue to devote scarce resources to traditional ‘force projection’ material, such as aircraft carriers, or should it focus on providing the equipment necessary to wage counterinsurgency operations?” Dr Alexis Crow from the London School of Economics commented for ISN Security Watch.
Logically it would seem that you build forces as you fight, but maybe that is just me.
Using Airpower, Sparingly
It is hard not to notice how a handful of land based fighters based on the British Falkland Islands have helped diffuse a crisis situation this past week. After some initial belligerence from Argentina over offshore oil rights, including some talk of a naval blockade she is totally unable to enforce, the government there has backed down on its military threats. It has chosen instead the diplomatic route of going to the UN, or low tech cyber attacks on a Falklands’ website.
Even the head of the Royal Navy Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope is satisfied with the situation, as stated in a recent speech:
“It is a question of matching the forces that we have with the threat that is there. Since 1982 we have built a massive great runway, we have placed forces on the ground, we have sophisticated early warning systems. It is a completely different package.”
The frugality of the defense there seems to throw cold water on the admirals insistence that only 65,000 ton, $5 billion American-style aircraft carriers could ensure proper protection of the Islands. They were not needed in 1982, and even less so in 2010 considering all the alternatives to large decks.
Teaching the Navy to Swarm
John Arquilla wants to see a networked USN, rather than a concentrated one. From the Financial Times:
A networked U.S. military that knows how to swarm would have much smaller active manpower — easily two-thirds less than the more than 2 million serving today — but would be organized in hundreds more little units of mixed forces. The model for military intervention would be the 200 Special Forces “horse soldiers” who beat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan late in 2001. Such teams would deploy quickly and lethally, with ample reserves for relieving “first waves” and dealing with other crises. At sea, instead of concentrating firepower in a handful of large, increasingly vulnerable supercarriers, the U.S. Navy would distribute its capabilities across many hundreds of small craft armed with very smart weapons. Given their stealth and multiple uses, submarines would stay while carriers would go. And in the air, the “wings” would reduce in size but increase in overall number, with mere handfuls of aircraft in each. Needless to say, networking means that these small pieces would still be able to join together to swarm enemies, large or small.
Someone has been listening!!
Hope & Change Comes to the Navy?
David Axe thinks so:
Over the past nine years, the Army and Marines have evolved from the industrial-style forces that fought the Cold War and 1991’s Operation Desert Storm, to become outfits more tailored to wage protracted counterinsurgencies involving significant humanitarian initiatives. That meant adding troops, mothballing heavy equipment and emphasizing language and cultural training. But while the Army and Marines transformed, the Navy hardly changed at all. Its centerpiece forces remained its large aircraft carriers.
Until now. The rise of Somali piracy, the growing popularity of “partnership” missions in Africa, Latin America and the South Pacific, and the naval response to the Haiti earthquake seem to have awoken the sea service to the importance of reform. A strategy document published in January underscores the Navy’s growing commitment to waging “irregular warfare” alongside the Army and Marines. Pottenger’s sailors represent the vanguard of a “new” Navy focused less on hardware and more on people.
The massive firepower offered by the aircraft carrier is increasingly less effective in this age of asymmetrical warfare. The few powers which might threaten us with similar weapons are themselves vulnerable to the proliferation of cruise missiles and stealthy submarines by rogue states. Columbian drug submarines are now being produced at an estimated rate of 75 a year and could easily be turned by terrorists into the ultimate suicide weapon at sea. The vulnerability of our Big Ships to suicide bombers was dramatically on display in 2000 with the bombing of USS Cole in Yemen.
Instead of a naval strategy dictated by the availability of a Carrier Strike Group, the fewer larger vessels should submit themselves to smaller, more numerous craft, which in so many cases can perform the same type of soft power and forward presence required in this modern age, at a drastically lower price tag. Forward based, these squadrons would watch and wait, while interacting with friendly merchant shipping, deterring any threat from piracy or illegal smuggling in the world’s littorals. They would be the light footprint used to great success on land in Iraq by General Petraeus and others to the detriment of Al Qaeda there, and potentially against their counter-part in Afghanistan.